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That's It, That's All

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Penn State has now lost two games in three days by a combined six points to the No. 11 and No. 6 teams in the country.

fuhgeddaboudit

The games don't count until Thursday.

It'd be easy to dwell on the heartbreak of the Nittany Lions' last two games after Saturday's 64-60 loss to Purdue at the Bryce Jordan Center, but don't do it.  Just don't.

The Lions have played about as well as anyone could have reasonably hoped in the last six games.  They've beaten two teams they're better than (Northwestern and Michigan) and gone toe to toe with the three best teams in the Big 10; Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State.

Would a win over one of the top teams have been nice?  Sure.  But the narrow losses to all three should indicate that Penn State is going bring more than any 11 seed has in the history of the Big Ten Tournament next weekend in Indianapolis. 

Let's get to it.

Saturday's game looked a lot like Thursday's loss to Michigan State.  The Lions fell behind by a few early, and trailed by a few for most of the game.  Purdue held a lead of between six and twelve points pretty much the whole way.  

The Lions closed the deficit to five, 51-46 with about seven minutes to play, when Talor Battle left the game due to nausea and dizziness.  Disaster right?

Wrong.

Penn State continued its charge, and pulled to within three at 58-55 as Andrew Jones rattled home a layup with 2:50 to play.

That score held until E'Twaun Moore stuck a cold blooded Jake Kellyesque banker three with a minute left to put Purdue up 61-55

It was another dagger in a season that's already witnessed too many off the hands of Demitri McCamey and Lawerence Westbrook.

And yet even that didn't stop the Lions.  The Nits scored the next five points to leave themselves down just one with 20 seconds to play.  Jones fouled Moore to stop the clock with 17 seconds.  Moore hit both free throws, and the Lions had the ball with a chance to tie, but a Chris Babb three with five seconds left fell short and the Lions were handed another late defeat at the hands of a Big 10 rival.

The Good

The last seven minutes of Saturday's game were the best Penn State has played all season.  Without their best player, the Lions not only stayed with, but closed on their top ten opponent (albeit a top ten opponent without it's best player) right down to the buzzer.  The best part was that everyone contributed.  Babb, Jones, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson all hit key shots at key times down the stretch, and Tim Frazier did an excellent job facilitating the offense despite a pretty rough start.

Jeff Brooks has now posted double figures in four of the last six games and Andrew Jones has grabbed seven or more rebounds in that same time frame.  It's no coincidence that those games have been among Penn State's best all season.  One of the first things people complain about when the team is losing is that it lacks a "Big Man" at the four or five spots, but when Jones and Brooks play well consistently, this team wins a lot of basketball games.  Penn State doesn't need a 20 and 10 guy down low, it just needs solid supplementary scoring and sound rebounding from the duo of Brooks and Jones to be successful.

Just a little more praise for Tim Frazier.  After a horrendous first half, the freshman stepped up and showed a ton more focus in the second, especially when Battle left the game.  He played within himself, distributed the ball to the scorers, and didn't screw up.  Granted, he let the ball go off him out-of-bounds after Babb's miss in the waning seconds, but aside from that, he played some of his best basketball of the Big 10 season Saturday.

The Bad

I don't criticize Ed Dechellis much, but his substitution patterns in the first half made it look like he was cool with waving the white flag before either team had broken a sweat.  Early in the first half, Frazier, Bill Edwards, and Sasa Borovnjak, all freshmen, were on the court together against a very good and very experienced Purdue team.  Predictably, chaos ensured.  Frazier had five turnovers, Edwards did nothing buy commit one foul in his seven minutes, and Borovnjak seemed content to stand under the hoop and hope a rebound would fall into his lap.  Look, I'm all for giving these guys minutes, just not at that point in the game, and definitely not all together.

You can't give a team as good as Purdue 15 turnovers.  The only Nittany Lion starter with less than two was Talor Battle.  The most frustrating part is that most of them weren't bone-headed passes or mental lapses, just lack of ability to catch a pass.  I swear more basketballs bounce off the forwards' hands than the floor on some possessions.  One of the things this team needs to work on most in the off season is catching the ball and handling the ball down low, because it's not very good at either right now.

The Lions just completely lost track of Keaton Grant, which is odd, considering they didn't have to guard Robbie Hummel.  The senior and 6.5 point per game scorer went for 17 points Saturday on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc.  On the season he's a 27% shooter from deep, but he looked like Jason Kapono at times.  With Hummel out, you expect JuJuan Johnson to get his points (he scored 21 and pulled down 10 boards) but when you limit Moore to nine points, you should be able to handle Keaton Grant.

The Ugly

Boilermaker fans TOOK OVER Saturday at the Jordan Center.  With students on spring break, the crowd was between 30 and 40% Purdue fans.  The Paint Crew was loud from the upper deck, and there was black and gold in big clusters throughout the stands.  I suppose they added to the atmosphere a little bit, but you never like to see your building get invaded like it was Saturday.

Seeing Robbie Hummel in street clothes was depressing.  Even without him, Purdue is so decisive and confident in the way it goes about executing its offense that it's scary to think about how dangerous the Boilers would be in the post-season with him still around. 

Next Up

The Lions will face either Michigan or Minnesota on Thursday in the 6-11 game at the Big 10 Tournament in Indianapolis.