Penn State looked to its usual leaders early. Shep Garner's five first-half assists set the table and the Nittany Lions lead by multiple possessions for much of the half. Garner and Brandon Taylor led the charge as PSU hit seven of their 12 threes in the first half, but the fouling issues that plagued this team all year kept Ohio State in the game.
Thad Matta's bunch awoke on the back of a halfcourt press that took Penn State out of rhythm offensively. Marc Loving spearheaded a 14-point run that spanned both halves, and by the time the Lions were finally able to break through the tide had turned. The 1-2-2 press employed by Matta sped PSU up, leaving the Garner/Taylor halfcourt combination that was so effective in the first half to the wayside.
The fouls continued well into the second half. Six Nittany Lions were playing with three fouls at the under-12 timeout, but the key moment came ten minutes in. Ohio State got into the bonus and Matta had to call off the dogs in the half court. That allowed Penn State to relax more in the half court and the Lions even regained the lead by getting to the line at taking the air out of what was a frantic game for much of the half.
Brandon Taylor was inadvertently elbowed in face with seven minutes remaining, adding injury to insult. BT got checked out and returned but did not score beyond that point. Fouls piled up and buried Penn State. OSU's 39 free throws were the third most-attempted in B1G Tournament history according to the broadcast.
A Payton Banks three and a pair of Garner free throws gave Penn State a short-lived lead with 4:12 to play, but freshman JaQuan Lyle - a 6'5" point guard with superior finishing skills - took over down the stretch. He finished with 22 points, 10 boards and five assists, and got to the rim at will with the game still in the balance.
Four Factors Analysis
Let's talk about fouls - despite the discrepancy in free throw rate, that was not a poorly-officiated game. Penn State has always fouled at a high rate under Pat Chambers, and combined with Ohio State's athleticism at both levels it created a scenario in which the Nittany Lions had no answer other than sending their opponent to the line. Some of that is on Chambers - not every team with an athletic disadvantage fouls this much this often - and it's certainly an area of concern heading into two very important seasons in the Chambers era.
Player of the Game - Shep Garner: 25 pts (9-16 FG, 3-7 3pt), 5 reb, 5 ast
Young Shep grew up a lot in the past month. The sophomore struggled mightily at times this season, including an 0-18 run from three in early February. But starting with the upset over Iowa, Garner's line is as follows (seven games): 20.3 ppg, 4.6 apg (1.9 A/TO ratio) and the most encouraging stat of all, 48 percent from three-point range on eight attempts per game. The presumption is that he'll be moving off the ball next season with Tony Carr setting foot on campus and Terrence Samuel gaining eligibility, which in theory should lead to more catch and shoot opportunities for Garner. With no seniors on next year's team, Shep will be asked to lead. He's looked the part of late.
- Jack's Redemption - Donovon Jack nearly outdid his career-best game against Iowa against Ohio State, with 18 points on eight shots including two triples. Like Garner, he really rounded into form late in the season and finally lived up to some of the potential we saw flashes of early in his sophomore year. You just wonder what a redshirt season in 2012 would've done for his career...
- Perplexing Press - Ohio State's press confounded Penn State early in the second half, and the fact that Penn State was confounded confounded me. Still with me? PSU had dealt with full-court pressure so well in previous instances (Iowa sticks out in my memory), but they had such trouble tonight dealing with the 1-2-2. Makes you wonder if they were adequately prepared for it after playing a few teams that are press-averse in Northwestern and Illinois.
- Blinding Future - No matter what Chambers says, this was a transitional year. It's not a dig at this crop of seniors, who all had memorable moments on different occasions, but a mere fact of numbers. Six new faces will grace the floor at the BJC, joining the young core of Garner, Josh Reaves and Payton Banks. The former two made big impacts in Indy, and the latter was sorely missed early in the second half as he rode pine with three fouls. Despite what the 7-11 conference record tells you, this was not Chambers' best team in State College. But the progress and development is clearly evident, and it's all the more reason to be optimistic heading into the next era of Penn State basketball, an era which begins in November.
Sorry, friend. Penn State will have options for the postseason, whether it be the CBI or the brand new Vegas 16 tournament, but all signs point to this being the final game for this incarnation of PSU hoops. We'll have more on this season and the future of the program soon on BSD.