Penn State came down the court on the first possession and Shep Garner hit a three-point shot. It went downhill from there for the Lions. Pittsburgh scored the next 13 points to take the early momentum and a quick 13-3 lead.
The ten-point spread between the teams held until the midpoint of the first half when Payton Banks scored five straight points to cut the lead. The push didn’t last long as Pitt scored the next six points and the lead was 25-11 with 7:51 left in the half. Penn State had 4 made baskets and 6 turnovers at the time and was struggling to find an offensive identity.
The Lions became a bit more aggressive, driving to the hoop and feeding the low-post for the remainder of the half. The team pressed as well and it produced a few Pitt turnovers. The assertion helped freeze momentum and helped keep the deficit from getting out of hand heading into the final five minutes of the half.
Freshman Nazeer Bostick made a nice hustle play during this push. Following a disappointing air-ball on the offensive end of the floor, Bostick hustled back and blocked a shot on the other end. Not stopping there, he ran the length of the court to take the pass for the finish. Watch as he runs up the court each way, faster than the rest of the players but yet he looks as though he isn’t running hard at all. Bostick is a nice athlete and he is already making plays early in his career.
Unfortunately the Panthers made the next scoring burst to end the half and went to the locker room with a hefty 42-22 lead. Pitt out-rebounded Penn State 26-13 in the half.
Each team came out ready to play in the second-half and they swapped baskets for the first five minutes with the lead remaining 20 points. The Lions began to cut into the lead at that point, making a mini-run that found the spread down to 17 points at the under 12-minute timeout. The lead was down to 15 points, but Josh Reaves put the ball in the Pittsburgh hoop while attempting to keep a rebound alive for a teammate. It was that kind of day for the Lions until very late in the game.
Penn State continued to carve into the lead for the next few minutes. Mike Watkins had a dunk followed by a nice low-post move on the next possession. Pitt answered with a pair of three point shots and the lead was back to 15 points with just under 8 minutes left in the game.
After the timeout Penn State cut the lead to 11 with two quick baskets and some solid defense. Mike Watkins once again was the catalyst on both ends of the court. Watkins grabbed the rebound after a miss on the front-end of a one-and-one for Pittsburgh and led a scoring chance with a nifty pass that had Tony Carr at the foul line. He made both to cut the lead under ten points, 67-58, with 4:56 left to play in the game.
Payton Banks stole the next inbound pass and took the ball to the hoop, getting fouled in the process. After a pair of foul shots, the lead was just 67-60. The crowd inside the neutral stadium in Newark, N.J. began to take a noticeable Penn State leaning. The noise level increased but it was Pittsburgh that scored the next few points. With just under 4 minutes remaining in the game, the lead was back to 11 points.
Penn State once again came out of the timeout with fire in its shoes. The team battled back and with 1:51 left in the game, Shep Garner made a free throw to cut the lead to 71-66. It was the closest that the team would get in its valiant comeback effort.
Sheldon Jeter hit a huge three pointer on the next possession, his second of the game for the Panthers. Following a Penn State miss and Pitt rebound, Jamel Artis went to the line. He hit one of two and the lead was nine with just over a minute to play.
The Lions were not able to make it all the way back but they continued to battle until the final whistle, losing in the end 81-73.
Four Factor Analysis
After being manhandled on the boards in the first half the Lions were able to rebound much better in the second half, knotting up the numbers by the end of the game. As is sometimes the problem with this Penn State team, the inability to put the ball in the basket with consistency caused the team to struggle with a very low field goal efficiency number. After turning the ball over 9 times in the first half, the Lions made their comeback while only turning the ball over 3 times in the second half.
Player of the Game- Mike Watkins (17 pts, 15 rebounds)
There were times in the game where it looked like the Lions would simply fade into an embarrassing loss of more than 20 points. Watkins was able to score at critical moments when the rest of the team was struggling. He had a couple of put-back buckets that turned a disappointment into a positive. The freshman center dominated stretches of the game and showed flashes of what Penn State basketball fans have to look forward to in the coming years.
- Penn State was able to use the press effectively on the day. It was nice to see the Lions with an athletic and speed advantage over such a solid team as Pittsburgh.
- It was nice to see the team fight back from a 24-point hole. Yes, it would have been nice for the team to have avoided getting into such a deficit, but it didn’t stay down. Some day soon it feels as though the team is going to put it all together, and be able to play a complete game.
- Pat Chambers played ten players throughout the game but six players got the majority of the minutes. It appears that the guys are beginning to settle into roles at this point. Payton Banks came off the bench and played 25 minutes, scoring 13 points. The starters (Garner, Reaves, Carr, Watkins, Stevens) each played roughly 30 minutes. Samuel and Bostick look very promising as role players. The team needs Zemgulis and Moore to elevate their games if it is going to be the best it can be this season.
Penn State has a week off before it will play St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. The game will be played at 11 a.m. on Sunday and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.