Usually, these game recaps are preceded by "Game Notes", posts that are basically my observations and observations from others watching games as they happen. I like them because they typically reflect the ebb and flow of a college basketball game, and give readers the chance to look back on what people were saying about games as they were going on.
Thursday night, however, I scrapped the game notes, because mid-way through the second half, I realized I'd written the same paragraph in about five different ways.
During Penn State's 67-65 loss to Michigan State at the Breslin Center Thursday night, you couldn't help but wonder what Penn State was doing in the game. The Lions turned the ball over too much. They got pounded on the glass. They were out shot. And yet late in the second half, there they were, leading a team with a conference crown to play for.
Ultimately, Penn State fell short, as it felt like they would much of the evening, but amazingly, they only fell short by a bucket. I'm not one for moral victories, but it was encouraging to see Penn State stay in the game with such a good opponent despite not having its best stuff.
Penn State trailed the Spartans pretty much from the get-go. At halftime, the Lions were down seven, and that had been the separation for much of the preceding half. It was also the margin they found themselves down through much of the second half, at least until the very end.
That's when Penn State kicked it into gear, and rallied to go up two on Michigan State late in the ball game. But lo, it was not to be. The Spartans rallied in their own building, and managed to hold on for the win after a frantic, last second scramble by Penn State's Talor Battle failed to yield a final shot from the Lions.
It was another balanced scoring night for the Nittany Lion starters. Battle, Chris Babb, Jeff Brooks, and David Jackson all scored in double figures and Andrew Jones managed seven points despite dealing with foul trouble throughout the game. We've seen balance offensively against teams like Northwestern and Michigan lately, but to see the Lions do it against an opponent as good as Michigan State was very encouraging.
Penn State was resilient Thursday night. Twice in the second half, the Lions trailed by as many as 10, and but refused to down by any more and were able to take the game right down to the final possessions. They took Sparty's best punch a couple of times late in the game, but hung in and managed to keep the game close despite the fact they were getting handled in several other areas.
And this isn't so much an aspect of Thursday night specifically as it is the season as a whole, but despite his shortcomings, Ed Dechellis always finds a way to motivate these players. They may not have the guts to hit a late shot, or the intestinal fortitude to make every play down the stretch, but Ed has done a fine job keeping them motivated, and competing at a high level, even in the team's many defeats.
The bench scored a whopping point Thursday night, an Andrew Ott free throw. Beyond that, nothing. The bench was key in Sunday's win over Northwestern, but it went missing against the Spartans, and the Lions payed a heavy price losing narrowly. It goes without saying that Penn State's reserves need to work on consistency now that they've proved they can go into games and make a difference.
The Lions let this game ride on cruise control for too long. For the better part of the first 25 minutes, Penn State just kind of existed out on the court. To their credit, the Lions never let the Spartans get too far ahead, but at the same time, they left fans wondering when they were going to flip the light switch, something that didn't happen until it was too late for the Lions, unfortunately.
Penn State got destroyed on the glass. Michigan State outrebounded Penn State 39-24, and 14-5 on the offensive glass. The extra possessions the Lions gave the Spartans really ended up being the difference in the game. Sure, Michigan State is an excellent rebounding team, but numbers like that can be tough to swallow regardless.
The final possession was painful, even though it really wasn't Battle's fault. When Michigan State missed its second free throw, Battle was forced to run the length of the floor with the clock rolling, which ultimately kept him from getting a final shot off down two at the buzzer.
The Lions take on a Robbie Hummell-less Purdue on Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center before heading to the Big Ten tournament next week.