"We're so close."
That's been Pat Chambers' mantra over the last two frustrating seasons of Penn State basketball. And you know what? It's never been more true than after Saturday night's 76-73 defeat to Maryland, in which his squad battled a hot-shooting Terps squad (and the referees, to an extent) until the bitter end.
First, how we got here: Penn State came out of the gates rather hot, opening up a lead they would never relinquish in the first half. D.J. Newbill and Geno Thorpe keyed the success, combining for 21 points. Thorpe had 12 of those points, giving him a new B1G career-high. The Nittany Lions kept Maryland entirely off the offensive glass, but hot shooting kept the Terps well within striking distance going into the half at 34-33.
The second period came with the usual Penn State Slow Start. Sloppy defense and stalling ball movement allowed Mark Turgeon's team to run out to a 13-point lead with six minutes gone in the half. Dez Wells continued his assault on the Nittany Lions' rims, scoring seven of his team-high 22 points during the Terp run. PSU kept the lead around ten for a few minutes before making a move of their own with ten minutes left. Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor hit back-to-back threes and Thorpe found Ross Travis underneath the rim to cap a 13-0 run which gave Penn State a 62-60 lead.
Maryland eventually regained the lead on the back of Melo Trimble, who got his usual glut of free throws en route to a 20-6-4 stat line. The game's flash point came with 1:50 on the clock and Penn State down 70-68: Jordan Dickerson, playing with four fouls, was dragged backwards by Maryland's Evan Smotrycz. Both players ended on the floor, and the whistle somehow went against Dickerson. Here's a Vine of the play, courtesy of @samspopguy:
Dickerson, who had just come up with a huge stuff of a Wells layup attempt, was called for his fifth foul. Trimble made an acrobatic layup on the ensuing possession. Penn State eventually got back within one, but they couldn't overcome Maryland's clutch free-throw shooting. Newbill's deep three with the clock winding out hit back iron and the Terps escaped with a three-point win.
Chambers has been upset with officials before (see: at Michigan State last month), but it's safe to say Saturday's postgame press conference was the most fired up he's been about a call.
Full Chambers quote on officiating pic.twitter.com/AUJcG353JY— Nate Bauer (@NateBauerBWI) February 15, 2015
Good on ya, Pat. BSD will be taking donations to pay for your fine. [Ed. note - BSD will most certainly not be taking donations to pay for any potential fine]
Four Factors Analysis
Penn State did the little things so well in this game, which is why it's such a damn shame they lost. Maryland's big three of Wells, Trimble and Jake Layman were the difference in this one. The trio attacked PSU's front line all game, and it resulted in open looks for shooters and free throws for themselves. Penn State's turnover rate on Saturday night was nine percentage points lower than their average rate (19.1) in B1G play. Between that and their ability to keep Maryland off the offensive glass, the Lions were able to get off 13 more field goal attempts than their opponents.
Player of the Game - Geno Thorpe
Geno picked a great time to have his best game of the season. His 17 points on 6-10 (2-3 3pt) shooting against one of the best backcourts in the conference may have gone unappreciated by the BTN, so we have to recognize him here.
- Big Deficiency - Newbill always needs support from his fellow guards, and he got that help tonight, but Penn State is at their most dangerous when the big men are contributing something offensively. Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Julian Moore all failed to provide that edge Penn State needed against a Maryland frontline that isn't always involved. Sure, Damonte Dodd and Jon Graham were held to just six points and seven boards combined, but none of PSU's trio of bigs did anything to take advantage of a small-ish opponent.
- Taylor Out? - Brandon Taylor could be facing more time on the sidelines after Trimble appeared to fall on his right leg late in the game. He originally injured that leg in the home win against Rutgers on Jan 24, an injury which kept him out for two whole games. Chambers did not provide an update on his availability for Wednesday's home date with Wisconsin.
- PSU plays Wisconsin next? - Oh, shit.
Yeah, Penn State will take on Bo Ryan's Badgers on Wednesday. At their current rate, Wisconsin is on pace to become the most efficient offense KenPom has ever tracked (aka since 2002). If you'll recall, they put up 89 on the Nittany Lions at the Kohl Center on New Year's Eve. It's not hard to picture that happening again, but college basketball has surprised me before. More on the Badgers coming Wednesday morning.