[TIM'S NOTE: I originally planned to write this recap last night after the game, but took on the unexpected role of BSD's roving reporter for Airplane-Gate]
I've long since become numb to it all.
This is what being a lifelong Penn State basketball fan does to you. It dampens your expectations to the point that even when a talented but incohesive bunch of players choke away yet another lead in the game's final minutes, all you can do is shrug.
Penn State came out of the gates sluggish, particularly on the scoring end of things, as the rim was extremely unkind to anyone on PSU who dared to take a shot. PSU's first points didn't come until the 16:49 mark on a pair of Tim Frazier free throws, its first field goal didn't come until the 13:00 mark, and they trailed 17-7 at 10:04 mark of the first half. PSU however, on the heels of Frazier (who led the team with 20 points on the night) suddenly caught fire and used an 18-3 run over the next six minutes to ultimately take a 35-30 lead to the locker room.
The second half saw PSU clinging to its lead, but never getting it higher than six points. They had a few chances to push that lead even higher and really put Minnesota on the ropes, but either the shots didn't go down, or an ill-timed turnover occurred, keeping Minnesota well within striking distance. The bottom finally fell out in the game's final few minutes though, as PSU, leading 59-55 with 3:44 left was held scoreless for the next two minutes, as Minnesota scored the next five points in a row, including the go-ahead basket on a tip-in by DeAndre Mathieu with 1:43 left, following a Geno Thorpe turnover. PSU actually had a chance to force overtime on its final possession, but John Johnson and Allen Roberts' three-point attempts both were slightly off-target.
While Frazier had a nice stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds, he also fouled out of the game and committed a team-high four turnovers (out of 14 total). To make matters worse, there was a lack of awareness on his and the coaching staff's part as to just how many fouls he had, as highlighted in the post-game press conference. In their defense however, THIS was the fourth foul assigned to Frazier (yeah, I didn't see it, either).
Furthermore, Tim's starting backcourt mate, DJ Newbill was nowhere to be found on the scoring end of things, laying a big fat goose egg in just 14 minutes of play. Had DJ played like his typical self, this is a game PSU likely wins, especially with Ross Travis playing like his usual self with an 18 point, 13 rebound performance.
This was a game PSU absolutely needed to win at home against a beatable Minnesota team in order to not only keep its ultra-slim NCAA hopes alive, but to gain back a little confidence and stabilize a season currently spiraling towards the ground. You can kiss such the NCAA hopes goodbye for sure now, and if things don't turn around soon, you can say the same for any other postseason hopes. It's obvious at this point, that this team just doesn't have what it takes to finish off opponents. Sure, they can compete with just about anybody in the Big Ten, but that doesn't mean jack squat, especially not during a critical third year of Pat Chambers' PSU coaching career where the program needs to show clear-cut improvement from a wins-losses perspective in order to keep up recruiting momentum.
Four Factors Analysis
Neither team shot the ball well from three-point range (PSU was 3 for 19, Minnesota was 4 for 16), the teams were dead even in total rebounds (39 each), and both teams racked up 14 turnovers. In the end, this game came down to one thing: Free throw shooting. Up until the final few minutes, Penn State had been clutch from the line, hitting on 15 of their first 19 attempts, while Minnesota had been abysmal most of the night (they were only 7 for 15 at halftime). However, the Nittany Lions would go on to miss seven of their final ten attempts while Minnesota seemingly nailed every free throw that it absolutely had to in order to preserve the victory. The huge discrepancy between the teams' FT Rate tells the tale.
Player of the Game
We'll call it a tie between Tim Frazier and Ross Travis. Ross was aggressive on the offensive end, even if he got blocked several times trying to go up against Minnesota's Elliott Eliason. He was rewarded with yet another double-double on the stat sheet. Frazier of course, was back to his usual self from a scoring perspective, which is always a good sign.
- Shaking Things Up - One positive thing you can say right now, is that Chambers isn't afraid to try new lineups or sub a guy out quickly if he's not performing up to par. It wasn't until last night however, that Pat decided to make his first change all year in the starting five, as Geno Thorpe took over Brandon Taylor's spot, giving PSU a three-guard look (with Frazier and Newbill) at tip-off.
- Time To Start Dickerson - Jordan Dickerson once again, saw double digit minutes off the bench, garnering a pair of rebounds to go with a beautiful block sent into the stands, prompting Yours Truly to involuntarily yell "BOOOTH" (which was a popular chant for PSU's last shot-blocking ace, Calvin Booth). Dickerson may not have scored any points, but he had just as many rebounds as Donovon Jack and once again, looked like the only truly consistent low post presence out there, with his ability to alter/block shots and grab rebounds. Hopefully, we see him in his rightful place in the starting lineup very soon.
- Not The Most Encouraging Words - In his post-game presser, Pat Chambers said: "We've got distracted minds, there's too much distraction on this team, and we've got to come together somehow. It's my job to figure it out." (starts around the 4:36 mark). When asked a follow-up question to further elaborate on said distractions, Chambers mentioned 'shots' and 'social media' as examples.
Penn State gets another chance to right the ship when they host Indiana at Noon ET Saturday at the BJC. Yes, I just typed that last sentence with a relatively straight face.