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Penn State Opens Conference Season by Losing to Northwestern, 87 to 77

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Penn State wasted a golden opportunity to start the Big Ten slate with a win for the first time in Pat Chambers’ tenure.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If Pat Chambers wants his team to deliver on his postseason requirement, it’s games like this one he needed to win. As mentioned earlier today, this was Penn State’s first game both at home and against an opponent no projected to finish at the top of the Big Ten in Chambers’ tenure as the Big Ten coach. And, while Northwestern promised to be a great matchup for the Nittany Lions, the possibility of starting the Big Ten slate with a win was as good as it had been since the 2010-2011 season.

Penn State squandered their opportunity to begin on the right note, losing to Northwestern in a game that wasn’t ever close, unlike the final score indicates. Northwestern started scorching hot, going 6-6 from the field in the opening minutes and amassing a 25-9 lead by the under 12 timeout. By the time the first half ended, the Nittany Lions had dug a hole too big for them to get out of.

Yes, some of this can be attributed by Northwestern making just about anything from anywhere, having a number of wild shots go in inexplicably, while just about the opposite happened to the Nittany Lions. There were times where even free throw shots would go halfway in then rim out. However, the entire performance does not come down to uncharacteristic shooting by both squads. Penn State had plenty of lapses on defense, was unable to get anything going on offense, allowed Northwestern to fight for rebound after rebound, many times leading to made three pointers off tip outs, and rushing to get a shot in when it was ill advised.

After this game, Pat Chambers is 2-3 against Chris Collins. Each coach has been able to beat the other on the road, and no game has been decided by less than 10 points. This will be another one on the list of games that were supposed to be close yet were anything but.

Four Factors Analysis

Four Factors

Team Total Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Team Total Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Penn State 71 1.07 50.0% 35.5% 19.7% 47.3%
Nebraska - 0.94 39.5% 34.0% 11.3% 13.2%

Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. If there’s one thing Penn State can take away from this game, is that they really need to rebound the ball. The Nittany Lions won’t win too many games by giving opponents extra opportunities on the offensive end. It’s good to see them cut down on the turnovers, but it won’t do much when you allow the opponents to score over one point per possession.

Player of the Game: Josh Reaves - 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks

Reaves continues to be a force all over the floor, being the only consistent player today for the Lions. Reaves had three made three point shots off six attempts. Reaves was 5 of 51 from three in his career.

Random Observations

  1. Penn State needs to stop shooting itself in the foot. - Yes, Northwestern was making everything, but there was a stretch in the game where they could have kept with the Wildcats and avoided the 20-point hole they dug themselves into. It starts with limiting the defensive lapses and prolonged droughts. The Lions won’t turn into shooters overnight, but if they can avoid going for extended periods without a single made basket, these games will be a lot more competitive moving forward.
  2. Julian Moore needs to get his act together. - Mike Watkins can’t play 38 minutes a game and remain effective. We can’t afford to have one our only two bigs play less than five minutes again for issues that are mostly mental. Moore needs to step it up, and he needs to do it now.
  3. Still a second half team, but effort not enough. - Penn State played a much better second half defensively, and probably would have made this a game had they made any shots. Northwestern scored a grand total of four points in the first six minutes of the second half, yet Penn State was only able to shave four points off the deficit. You’re not going to make many comebacks by not making shots.
  4. As Shep goes, the team goes. - If Shep Garner has a good game, Penn State can compete. Penn State struggles when he struggles. Today he struggled, and it came as no surprise that the team couldn’t get anything going offensively as a result.

Looking Ahead

Penn State goes on the road to visit a Rutgers team who is certainly improved over last season’s dreadful squad, but still leaves many questions unanswered due to their abysmal non-conference schedule. Can the Lions bounce back in this game or will we see another 0-6 start to the Big Ten? Game’s on ESPNU on January 1st, at 2:30 PM.