Tim Frazier's Leg Injury overshadowed the blowout by Akron on Sunday. - Andy Lyons
While the Lions were able to stay competitive for a half without Tim Frazier, they were disposed of easily by Akron in the 2nd half of the 5th place game in Puerto Rico.
After a lackluster start to this season, it looked like the Nittany Lions finally were piecing some things together. Newbill and Marshall were making shots, and PSU jumped out to an early lead, but then Tim Frazier went down after a double-team just six minutes into the game. The injury didn't look severe at first, but he clearly hit the floor in pain and had to be helped off the floor. It was quickly decided that his day was done.
And so the Lions played on without their leader and primary ball-handler. DJ Newbill ran the point and did so effectively for the first twenty minutes. He put up gaudy first half numbers - 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. Despite the circumstances, Penn State didn't miss a beat without Tim and took a 4-point lead into halftime.
If only the game could've ended there.
The Zips came out of the half on a mission. They smartly vamped up the ball pressure, employing a full-court press to expose Frazier's absence. Zeke Marshall (6 blocks) allowed Akron to gamble far too often, as he was an absolute stopper at the basket. Penn State didn't struggle so much with pressure despite a few poor turnovers that led to Akron runouts, but their old shooting habits returned as they shot just 31.2% on their 2PA and 16.7% on their 3PA in the 2nd half.
What was probably the most concerning element of today's game (outside of Frazier's injury, of course) was the lack of defense in the second half. Chambers has emphasized again and again the need to sustain the effort on the defensive side of the floor, regardless of how many shots you're making on offense. Whatever it was, Frazier's injury or not, the Lions were not active on the glass (the Zips grabbed 41.7% of their misses) and were getting abused by Zips (64.6% eFG% including 78% in the 2nd half!). Akron at one point in the second period made nine consecutive field goals in the midst of a ridiculous 31-7 run that easily put the game out of reach.
We'll have more tempo-free analysis of the tournament later this week, but for now, this was PSU's worst defensive performance under Coach Chambers, including all of last season. This was worse than the Kentucky game (1.27 PPP) and the away Indiana game (1.32 PPP). Akron averaged 1.36 points for every possession. To compare, NC State averaged 1.07 efficiency in their 72-55 win over PSU on Thursday. Credit certainly is due to Akron and their balanced attack, but PSU clearly has a lot to work on heading forward.
DJ Newbill led the way with 20 points, but as evidenced by his cramping and 3-7 performance at the line, he can't log extended point guard minutes. Definitely a capable point guard, but if Frazier is out for a few games, he's going to need help running the show. Brandon Taylor also had a notable performance with 10 points off the bench. The true freshmen continues to adjust well to the pace of the college game. With the struggles of the other PSU big men, Taylor could be a valuable asset that might just find himself in the starting lineup sooner than later.
Now we wait to hear of Tim Frazier's status going forward. He will be further evaluated at Penn State on Monday when they return. The official words given by Brian Siegrist, the SID, is a day-to-day status with a lower left leg injury. Whether it's an ankle sprain or achilles strain, who knows. The good news is he walked out of the arena under his own power and it doesn't appear to be a long-term issue.
Looking ahead, the Lions have to host a red-hot Bucknell squad that has raced out to a 5-0 start. They already went into Mackey this year and upset Purdue. No rest for the weary in Penn State's case as they try to turn around their slow start against the upstart Bison.
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