Basketball is a fickle sport. Going into this game, Penn State was a 15-point dog to the No. 4 team in the country in Maryland. At halftime, they led by eight and held Maryland to below 25 percent shooting. At the end of the game, stud freshman Diamond Stone had 39 points in a 70-64 Maryland win. Man, are there plenty of takes related to a roller coaster like that. Instead, I will lay the facts out in front of you, and you can decide.
Pat Chambers' first half game plan and subsequent rotations were exquisite. It's not hard to argue that it was the best coaching job he's done in his Penn State career. Chambers had the Terrapins perfectly scouted and planned for their attack well. The defense did a great job, and held Maryland to just 33.3 percent shooting from the field, including a 3-for-15 night from Melo Trimble. In the second half, Diamond Stone proved he is an absolute monster, and put up 39 points to fuel the Maryland win. Penn State's shooting went a bit cold, and Stone ate on the offensive glass.
However, and yes this is totally taking something away from Stone, in a properly officiated game there is never a 38-16 free throw discrepancy.The officiating was atrocious and it hurt Penn State, a running story that we're all very familiar with now. It was argued about less because we were in the game and leading, but there were at least five indefensible calls that went Maryland's way. Pair that with a team that is far superior in talent and execution, and it's awfully hard to try and pull an upset.
In the end, as it always seems to be in games like this, it was a tale of two halves. How you choose to perceive it is entirely up to you. As for me, I'll choose to take the optimistic approach. We played one of the favorites for the national championship down to the wire, battled with them the whole time, and realistically had a great chance to win despite all the obstacles. Maryland is a much, much better team than Penn State. Penn State did just about everything in its power to try and win that game. When you're guarding the top big man recruit in America with Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson, it's hard to argue that there was some miracle adjustment we should've made. Talent wins out, and we don't have it yet. We will next year. It hurts now to feel like you just let a massive upset slip through your fingers, but you'd have taken this result at 4:59 p.m.
Give credit where it's due, this Penn State team played its ass off against a preseason Final Four favorite, and Pat Chambers out-coached Mark Turgeon. Central PA's version of Trust The Process is showing plenty of signs that it's a lot closer than anyone wants to think. We moved up ten spots in KenPom after that loss. That was a great game, even if the final score hurts.
Admit it, it wouldn't hurt if you didn't have hope.
Four Factors Analysis
Maryland couldn't shoot to save their lives, out-rebounded Penn State's big men on the offensive glass with force, and were gifted an absurd free throw rate. The advanced numbers belie what happened, and it's hard to overcome those massive gulfs in OReb% and FT Rate, even with the field goal difference.
Player of the Game - Brandon Taylor (15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists in 38 minutes)
BTitty started slow, but became the swiss army knife attacker he needs to be for Penn State to win conference games this season. His post moves were smooth, his jumper looked good (though he was just 1-for-4 from three), and he played solid defense. Davis Zemgulis deserves a shout here as well. Actually...
1) Davis Zemgulis is getting real, meaningful minutes. He looks way more ready than most thought he would at this point. That is awesome, especially considering Josh Reaves just played by far the worst game of his Penn State career – by the way, he'll be fine.
2) Penn State did a great job playing the first half of the game to its tempo and making Maryland chase it. When Penn State does well, it draws teams down to its pace. When it loses games, it gets sped up.
3) Taking away the best player on the opponent's team, a legitimate NPOTY candidate no less, is always wise. Melo Trimble did not have a good first half, and shot just 3-for-15 from the field.
4) Diamond Stone is absurdly good.
5) Shep Garner needs to be smarter about his shot selection, especially early in the clock. He can hit deep threes, so arguing he shouldn't take them when he misses and being pumped when he makes them is short-term memory. He's shot 40 percent from three so far this year, and has shown a clear acumen to make seemingly bad shots. But he needs to be better later in the game.
6) Pat Chambers' in-game coaching and game planning has improved vastly. Putting it together with the talent influx coming in will be very fun to watch.
7) Jim Calhoun loves Brandon Taylor, who recovered from a bad start to post a double-double.
8) Donovon Jack had a strong game offensively, but him and Dickerson both fouling out, even though it wasn't necessarily all their faults, will not help anyone get wins.
9) Penn State got lost in Maryland's screens and their switching in heavy movement was brutal late in the game, which led to the wide open Robert Carter dagger.
Penn State will take on Michigan at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Saturday at noon. There might be another sporting event going on then. We're just not sure.