If the Nittany Lions still thought they were in the race for an NCAA Tournament bid heading into their 75-57 loss at Michigan State Thursday night, they certainly didn't play like it.
Penn State allowed the Spartans to jump out to a 16-3 lead to open the game, then limped into the half trailing by 20 before sleep walking through the second half while Michigan State put things on cruise control. The home team led by as many as 23 points on the evening and looked every bit like the top-five team they were billed to be heading into the season.
Penn State, on the other hand, was a wreck. Talor Battle led the Lions in scoring with 19 points but was only 7-20 from the field. Jeff Brooks came off the bench and back from injury to score 15 points and grab four rebounds. Outside of that, production fell off a cliff. David Jackson finished with eight points and no other Lion had more than five.
The Lions are now 12-11 and 5-7 in Big Ten play. Barring a miracle charge to close the season, their NCAA tournament hopes have effectively been dashed. Could it still happen? Sure, but not playing the way the Lions have in their last three games, all losses against Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State.
- You have to admire Jeff Brooks' heart. His dislocated shoulders is a serious matter and rushing back from the injury could be putting any career his basketball future in doubt. He didn't have to play against Michigan State, but with Penn State's season in the balance, he fought hard while many of his teammates wilted.
- If there's one thing Penn State has done well during its three game losing streak, it's hold on to the ball. The Lions escaped Lansing with only six turnovers, their third straight game with single digit cough-ups.
- Andrew Jones, David Jackson and Tim Frazier, Penn State's three other starters beyond Battle and Brooks, put up a combined 12 points and five rebounds. They shifted way too much of the burden onto the shoulders of Battle and Brooks. With a bench as weak as Penn State's, that can't happen.
- Speaking of the bench, I'm wondering if it even needs to be said that it had a bad night. From now on, let's just assume it had an awful night until it does something to prove otherwise. Brooks was technically part of the bench this Thursday, but take him away, and the reserves scored a total of seven points. Not as bad as it has been, but still pretty awful .
- After containing Draymond Green and Delvon Roe in the first matchup, Penn State let the pair go off for 30 points, 17 rebounds and 10 asists. The interior defense, one of Penn State's strengths this season, just wasn't there.
- To further reinforce that point, Penn State was pounded 32-20 on the boards.
- Billy Oliver's late foul on Delvon Roe was unacceptable and unsportsmanlike. With Roe on a breakaway, Oliver fouled Roe hard with only seconds left on the clock, injuring him. Should the Spartans have been running up the score like that at that point? Probably not, but that doesn't really matter. You can't do stuff like that while wearing the blue and white.
- The team has shown a complete lack of intensity since Brooks' injury. That's on the coaches. Everyone knows what he brings to the table, but that's no excuse for the lack of fire. More than anything, coaches are supposed to be motivators, and from the outside, it appears as if they've failed miserably in that regard at the most critical moments of Penn State's season. I defend the coaches a lot for dealing with some of the absurd obstacles that get thrown in their way, but intensity is something they can control. The haven't. It's very disappointing.