Close losses are still losses. There are no moral victories. Conversely, sort of, frustrating losses are still just losses. Tonight's defeat at the hands of Michigan, who found their once-lost outside point shot to great effect, was Penn State's second consecutive frustrating loss. To be sure, it was a much-improved performance from Saturday's debacle at Rutgers, but it still isn't the type of performance that will win a ton of B1G games.
The Nittany Lions came out of the gate a bit off the pace, as they have been wont to do in recent weeks. Michigan took advantage and got out to a 10-2 lead before the first media timeout. Penn State eventually threw some punches of their own via John Johnson, who had his best shooting night of the season (16 pts, 4-8 3pt FG). Geno Thorpe added in his trademark aggressiveness and before you knew it you were watching the PSU squad from the non-conference portion of the schedule. Their four-point lead didn't last long though, as Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert took over to give Michigan a seven-point lead of their own by halftime.
Penn State dug deep to battle back in the second half. D.J. Newbill got going and eventually achieved his usual "quiet 20" points on 7-12 shooting, and Donovon Jack had himself a very respectable showing against Michigan's young big men with 9 points on 4-4 shooting (and zero fouls). But the story of the late second half was John Beilein switching to the 1-3-1 zone in crunch time. Penn State found holes a few times, when Shep Garner hit an open three late in the clock and Jack made no mistake when left alone on a UM miscommunication, but on two huge possessions with the game in the balance the backcourt trapping forced Newbill into a pair of turnovers. The late mistakes doomed Penn State to an 0-3 start in the B1G with a trip to Bloomington looming.
Pat Chambers' gameplan was clear - dare Michigan, a team that has struggled shooting the ball for long stretches this year, to beat them from outside the paint. And to LeVert's and Irvin's collective credit, they did just that. They combined to go 12-17 from the floor and 4-8 from three, each doing most of their damage from mid-range. Michigan's savior against Illinois, Aubrey Dawkins, added a spark off the bench with eight points to carry the Wolverines over the threshold. -CM
Four Factors Analysis
The numbers pretty much tell the story of this one. Michigan was better across the board (even if that does include having a higher turnover rate, as well). The only way that Michigan was going to win this game (and any other game, for that matter), was by shooting the lights out. Well, a 63.3% field goal efficiency percentage is a pretty good place to start. The Wolverines knocked down their shots, especially towards the end of the game. The Lions will need to post a significantly better free throw rate in future Big Ten match-ups, if they want to break into the B1G win column. -NP
Player of the Game - John Johnson
It's tempting to give this to Jack, who deserves recognition for his foul-less efforts even if Michigan shied away from the rim more often than not. But Flipp deserves credit for his home cooking. Our friends at MGoBlog had this to say about his efficiency numbers the last time these teams met:
If I was Pat Chambers I'd keep John Johnson on the sideline in a Hannibal Lecter mask.— mgoblog (@mgoblog) February 13, 2014
So it was a small consolation to see him stick a few face-up threes in the eyes of Michigan defenders. -CM
goddammit is John Johnson my personal nemesis— mgoblog (@mgoblog) January 7, 2015
- D0n0v0n Jack - Zero fouls. I can't get over this. Dude was averaging close to 9 fouls per 40 minutes before tonight.
- The B-Titty Problem - If there's one player's struggles which informs the team's current issues, it's Brandon Taylor. The junior has just 14 points in B1G play, shooting 5-28 from the field. He tried to play in the post to begin the game, but his shots weren't falling and he wasn't getting to line. Taylor is a volume shooter to begin with, and when a volume shooter isn't playing with confidence the result is an ugly one. Chambers has to find a way to boost his confidence, and the week's rest until the trip to Indiana should give him the opportunity to do so. -CM
Penn State will need to rebound, and they will need to rebound quickly, if they want to stand any chance at gaining a favorable seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Next on the schedule are the Hoosiers of Indiana, who currently sit at 11-4 overall (1-1 in the B1G). If Penn State plays the way they've played so far in conference, they'll have a tough time against the team coached by the brother-in-law of the Big Ten's newest football coach. Hopefully Chambers has the boys ready to go, and is able to get them back into the state of mind they need to be in to once again taste the fruits of victory. Game time is 7:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, January 13th. -NP