This loss hurts almost as much as any football loss. I didn't think I would be typing that previous sentence earlier, but seeing how close this heavy underdog (17 points) of a Penn State team came to knocking off a Pitt team that had only previously lost three times at home in non-conference play since they began playing in their current arena 11 years ago made this loss a tough one to swallow. Had Penn State been able to pull off the upset, it would have represented a huge non-conference scalp for PSU's potential NCAA Tournament resume. This is not to say that beating St. John's at the Barclay's Center wasn't a quality win by any means, but beating Pitt at the Petersen Events Center in front of their raucous Oakland Zoo student section would have garnered some serious national attention and respect.
The game was rather tight in the first half, with the game either tied or PSU leading ever-so-slightly. Shots were not falling in the first half for either team, especially for Pitt, who shot merely 28% from the floor. While Pitt had yet to exploit PSU's interior defensive issues, PSU's forwards got into early foul trouble, forcing Pat Chambers to reach into his bench, with Julian Moore seeing several minutes along with the typical bench minutes from Allen Roberts, Geno Thorpe, and Graham Woodward. Tim Frazier was even forced to take a seat for most of the final six minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls. Despite these issues however, PSU managed to take a 28-21 lead with 3:39 to play in the half, only to see Pitt go on a 7-0 run to tie it up before Frazier came back in and nailed a shot right before the half to put PSU back up 30-28. While it was enough to quell the bleeding (momentarily), PSU failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity to push its lead into double digits and really stymie Pitt.
The second half saw several more lead changes and ties, along with a couple more blown opportunities. Penn State got its lead back up to five, at 38-33 early on, but Pitt once again rallied to reclaim the lead, thanks to a 9-3 run. It was from there, that PSU got its lead back up to three points and had a chance to bump it further after Geno Thorpe hit two free throws after being flagrantly fouled. On the in-bounds pass following Geno's free throws however, Frazier's pass slipped through Ross Travis' hands and went out of bounds back to Pitt. Things seemingly went downhill from there as Pitt by this point, had figured out that PSU had little to answer against their physical big men down in the paint, a realization that would allow them to shoot 59% from the floor in the second half. Even though PSU held a 59-58 lead with as little as 5:15 to play, the Panthers had clearly seized momentum in the contest and finished off PSU with 10-4 run over the next four minutes that would put the game out of reach.
The Tim Fraizer-DJ Newbill backcourt carried PSU. Frazier scored 27 points (while racking up a pedestrian three assists) while Newbill put up 18 points himself to go with five rebounds. Brandon Taylor also pitched in eight points and five boards and Allen Roberts knocked down a pair of well-timed three-pointers to rack up six, himself. Pitt saw four of its players reach double figures, including Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna sporting 16 each. Zanna had a double-double as he also tacked on 10 rebounds and Patterson damn near joined him in the club with nine rebounds, himself. Guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson also pitched in 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Penn State's rebounding issues reared their ugly heads again, as the Panthers held a 38-29 edge on the boards, including nine offensive rebounds for the bad guys. Ross Travis led PSU in rebounding with six of them, but really looked out of sync tonight with poor defense and shaky ball-handling, not to mention his shot was nowhere to be found. It was easily his worst performance of the season, and one that he surely looks to erase from his memory soon enough.
Four Factors Analysis
Let's just say that those defensive PPP numbers ain't pretty. Neither are those offensive rebounding and free throw numbers. The free throw numbers can be attributed somewhat to some rather spotty officiating in which Pitt seemed to get Dwayne Wade in the 2006 NBA Finals-like treatment (more on this in the 'Random Observation' section).
Player of the Game
Without question, it's Frazier. He set the tone early by nailing a jump shot literally a few seconds into the game after PSU won the opening tip and continued to carry the team on his shoulders (along with his backcourt partner in crime, Mr. Newbill). He reminded us again of why he's the engine that makes this team run and allows it to be competitive with just about any team, night-in and night-out.
- Paging Graham Woodward - He only played four minutes in the first half and then never saw any playing time the rest of the game. I realize he probably needs work defensively, but given that everyone not named Allen Roberts was having an off-night shooting the three-ball, it couldn't have hurt to try and get him a few good looks from downtown.
- Stay Classy, Oakland Zoo - I'm glad Pitt's student section deemed child rape reprehensible enough to start a 'hit the showers' chant when the game's outcome was apparent in the final minute.
Tonight's game ended the roughest three-game stretch of Penn State's non-conference slate. While Marshall, Duquesne, and Princeton aren't pushovers, they are teams that PSU should be favored against and should take care of business against. Couple that with John Johnson being eligible for the Mt. St. Mary's game a few days before Christmas, and a 10-3 record heading into Big Ten play looks attainable for this squad.
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