It's almost not worth writing the same words over and over about what troubles this Penn State team. For every step they've taken since the Return to Rec in December, it feels like Pat Chambers' squad have taken two steps back. A team that looked so confident in Brooklyn against two high-major squads has been reduced to a group that can't seem to find its head for long, crucial stretches of games.
Saturday's defeat at the hands of Indiana was perhaps the best example of their recent play - the Nittany Lions ran out to 12-point lead in the opening minutes and extended it to 15 before the Hoosiers began their rally. D.J. Newbill quickly erased any thoughts of another 0-0-0 stat line and freshman Geno Thorpe brought the #ATTITUDE that has been sorely missed at times this season. But IU rallied back cut the deficit to just four at halftime and carried their aggressive play into the second half while PSU struggled to defend without fouling. The Hoosiers shot 35 free throws and drained 29 of them, good for 82.9%. Freshman Noah Vonleh made seven of his eight freebies, and he also drained both of his three-point attempts despite having just three triples to his name coming into Saturday.
The Lions once again had to do without Tim Frazier for vital second half stretches due to foul trouble. He picked up his fourth on a questionable charge call with 13 minutes left, sending him to the bench. Penn State responded about as well as you could've hoped; Graham Woodward sparked a mini-comeback that John Johnson capped off with a trademark pull-up three to give Penn State a three point lead. The Hoosiers responded with a Vonleh dunk and a huge triple from Austin Etherington to give the visitors a lead they would never relinquish. Newbill tried his best to will his team to victory, but his three-point attempt to tie the game at the buzzer hit iron, denying the rather crowded BJC the chance to see their newest hero:
Just got word James Franklin is here at the BJC. Imagine his appearance depends on Penn State winning this game— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) January 11, 2014
Four Factors Analysis
This was one choppy game, especially in the second half. Penn State was, predictably, more careful with the ball than Indiana, but IU's ability to get the ball inside proved to be too much for Donovon Jack, Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson, who combined for 12 fouls in 35 minutes. B-Titty had an especially poor showing, going 0-7 from beyond the arc. Chambers did elect to throw in more zone defense than usual against the notoriously ill-prepared Tom Crean, but it didn't seem to matter what defense Penn State played after the opening ten minutes.
Player of the Game
Newbill is the clear-cut choice here with 24 points and five boards, but you just wonder what kind of game Jack might've had if he could've stayed out of foul trouble. "Shoulda, coulda, woulda," I know, but he made a noticeable impact every time he had the ball in his hands, whether it was dishing to Thorpe for a slam from the high post, knocking down an early three, or taking it straight at IU's post defenders.
Anyways, it's good to see Newbill respond so well after the worst game of his career. His three-point stroke returned (3-6 on the day) and he was as aggressive as ever with the ball in his hands. Now, if only Chambers can get he and Frazier (10 points, no assists) to synchronize their good games.
- Geno stakes his claim - Thorpe started and played 20+ minutes for the second straight game, and he certainly earned a third start with his play on Saturday. The Shaler product scored five points to spark the game-opening run and was all over the court on defense, grabbing four boards and notching two steals. It's rare to see a freshman's minutes actually increase during conference play, but that's a testament to his hard work and development in practice. Fellow frosh Woodward had a short cameo but made the most of it, scoring a layup which got the seemingly-disinterested BJC back into the game.
The Lions travel to Ann Arbor on Tuesday for their only meeting with John Beilein's Wolverines, who now look a less daunting matchup without their impact big man Mitch McGary. Don't get it twisted - Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are two of the best in the B1G - but they struggled to fend off Nebrasketball last week and could be ripe for the taking. More on Tuesday.