I certainly wouldn't say I'm ready for the season to be over, but the dog days have quickly arrived as each game seems to write the same story over and over again. Penn State dominates the hustle statistics, rebounds their butts off, and yet can't even come close to putting the ball in the basket. They made only 31% of their 2's and 29% of their 3's, despite earning 22 more shots than the Golden Gophers. A big part of the shot discrepancy came from Minnesota living at the foul line. They attempted more free throws than field goals (44 to 38) thanks to 29 Penn State fouls, including a flagrant and an intentional foul at critical moments in the game.
While the offensive woes will stick out the most in our minds, it's important to realize the defense has really dropped off in conference play as well. Not that this was totally unexpected, but PSU is currently 2nd worst in defensive efficiency in the Big Ten, giving up an average of 1.09 PPP. Chambers seems to think it results from guys losing confidence after missed shots. This is the third game in a row PSU allowed their opponent to shoot over 60% eFG%. Considering this offense will be fortunate to come close to 50%, that effort is just not going to give them a chance to win.
The first half went back and forth before Minnesota went to the half up by two (33-31). Just two minutes into the second half Matt Glover got called for a flagrant elbow on a defensive rebound. I was at the game, and I thought the call was obvious and the right one. I never got a good second look of it. Minnesota used the momentum to open it to an 11 point lead. However, Penn State regrouped and stepped up the defense in an effort to make a comeback. They cut the lead back down to 3 at the under-12 media timeout (44-41). Minnesota responded quickly and efficiently, going on an 11-0 run that put the game away. In the midst of that run was an intentional foul by Ross Travis that resulted in a 5-point possession for the Gophers.
Minnesota was impressive on both ends of the floor showing no signs of any sort of letdown after their victory at Indiana. On defense, they completely shut down the lane all game long. Sasa Borovnjak and Jon Graham were completely ineffective offensively against Ralph Sampson III (5 blocks). Penn State's spacing was poor as well, making it difficult on Frazier when he tried to penetrate. Tim finished with 20 points but only had 2 two-pointers inside. On offense, Minnesota was just the opposite as Penn State. They really spaced PSU's 3-2 zone well, getting easy looks inside and out. Penn State obviously had trouble with Minnesota's athleticism and aggressiveness, as they were out of position for most of the game (hence, 29 fouls).
Other than Frazier's 20-point, 4-steal, 5-assist performance, Penn State was aided by Cammeron Woodyard's career-high 22 points. Woodyard, who says he's still less than 100% with his hamstring, scored 15 crucial first-half points (making all 8 of his FTAs) to keep PSU in the game. The rest of the team offensively provided nothing. Jermaine Marshall had his 2nd tough game in a row. He finished with 12 points (8 of which came with the game well out of reach), but shot just 4-19 from the floor and missed 13 of his first 14 attempts. Billy Oliver was a no-show (1 point on just 0-2 from the field).
Trey Lewis didn't dress for the game because of an apparent back injury. It sounds like he could miss some time. Looking ahead, the schedule doesn't get any easier as the next four games are against the top-half of the league. Coach Chambers will have his hands full trying to restore some confidence in this young team. I do feel the need to say I love his quotes from the post-game pressers of these games. He takes full accountability and places the blame on himself. That is something I wish I saw from previous coaches more often.