A road game against a top-50 ranked KenPom team? Let's just say this was not expected to be a win by any Penn State fans heading into the season, and the early going did nothing to assuage those concerns. George Washington had beaten sixth-ranked Virginia earlier this season on their home floor, and they are considered a favorite for the Atlantic-10 crown. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have been floating just above the surface since back-to-back losses to Duquesne and Radford. So it should not have been surprising to see Penn State fall to GW by double digits in D.C.
Early on with Brandon Taylor struggling (two turnovers and a foul), Shep Garner and Payton Banks combined for the Lions' first 11 points (including three three-pointers). But George Washington shot well against the Penn State zone, hitting three early threes as well. The first half MVP for GW was sophomore Yuta Watanabe, who scored 14 points on 4-5 shooting from three after entering the game shooting just 26.7% from distance.
Penn State had it within four as they were closing into halftime, but a late three brought the lead out to 7, and Davis Zemgulis and Donovon Jack missed shots on the final possession that could have tightened things heading into the break. GW carried this momentum through the break and came out firing in the second half, extending their lead to 56-38 with over 15 minutes remaining. After the Colonials subbed in a second unit, Penn State chipped away with a quick 7-0 run that got it to 56-45.
Taylor started coming on in the second half, rattling off a few inside buckets to keep Penn State from falling completely out of the game, but it was too late to truly give the Nittany Lions a blueprint for getting back in. Penn State had the ball down just 9 after a Taylor three, but Payton Banks couldn't knock down an open three off a Taylor pass, and GW followed up with a dagger three of their own from Paul Jorgensen. Penn State would get it back to 9 points once more but never got closer than that.
The Nittany Lions showed flashed throughout the game, hitting some threes early and at times showing strong moves around the rim. But they struggled defensively to contain George Washington once their threes started falling, and had unbearable cold streaks where they missed looks in close to the rim.
Four Factors Analysis
George Washington's free throw rate was inflated by some freebies in the last few minutes as Penn State tried to foul their way back into the game, but Penn State is still having trouble defending without fouling. The Nittany Lions were also a little sloppy with the ball and could use a some cleaning up on that front after protecting the ball well early in the season. Penn State's offensive rebounding numbers are nice to see, and they shot pretty well on 2-pointers for once. However, they couldn't carry some good three-point shooting in the first half over to the second half, and GW's preference to let the Lions take hurried threes paid off.
Player of the Game - Shep Garner: 22 pts (7-13 FG, 3-6 3pt), 6 reb, 3 ast
One of the few real bright spots of this game was the clear development of Shep. The sophomore is averaging 23 points per game over his last three contests and is the clear number one option on offense right now. And it even looks he's even developing into a true point guard - his assist to turnover ratio in those three games is 4:1, bolstered by his 0 turnover performance on Tuesday night. - CM
- Brandon Taylor is inconsistent - George Washington is a better team than Penn State on paper, the best team the Nittany Lions have played this season. Penn State was going to need big games from both Garner and Taylor to have a chance. Taylor did not show up in the first half, looking as lost as he did against Boston College, if not moreso. He was terribly sloppy with the ball on offense and not effective on defense for large stretches of the game. Only around the midway point of the second half did he find his game, but it was too late to get Penn State back in it. It's been an up-and-down season for the senior, and I suppose if he's not showing consistency at this point it's never going to happen.
- Foul troubles yet again - Once again, Penn State had four different players on the bench at the end of the first half with two fouls (Taylor, Reaves, Dickerson, and Foster). Penn State's 2-3 zone approach is clearly aimed at limiting one-on-ones for his thin frontcourt on defense, but once again the Nittany Lions were unable to defend in either zone or man, giving up 40 first half points with four players in foul trouble.
- Free throw shooting is a problem - Another foul-related problem? Free throw shooting. Penn State does not get to the line as often as their opponents, and when they get there, they are not consistently knocking them down.
It's a busy week for Penn State with the Return to Rec games coming up on Thursday and Saturday. Penn State will first look to bounce back against Canisius at 7 p.m. on Thursday, followed by Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday afternoon. Both games will be played at Rec Hall.