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Penn State 70, Maryland 64: Terps’ Luck Runs Out

Vegas thought this game would be close. The fans didn’t. Vegas was right.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Minutes after the three overtime loss against Indiana, almost everyone assumed Penn State would have a 5-7 conference record at this moment. None, however, imagined it would come with a loss to Rutgers and a win against Maryland. But here we are, same expected conference record, completely different way to get at it.

Penn State’s defense looked like the defense we’ve come to expect this season. There were very few possessions where anyone on Maryland’s end was left unattended, and that led to the Terrapins having to earn every point. Maryland committed nine turnovers in the first half alone.

On offense, it was also more of the same for the Nittany Lions, as they weren’t wholly efficient. The difference, however, came in Penn State finding its shot at the free-throw line again. In a game where fouls were handed out more frequently than candy at FAO Schwartz (R.I.P), the Lions took advantage of the free opportunities by shooting 68% from the line.

To its credit, Maryland did fight a bit in the second half after going down 14, cutting the deficit to as little as two points. As it has been all season, Penn State was unable to break Maryland’s press and it led to many unnecessary turnovers, which gave the Terps every opportunity to get back in this game.

Unfortunately for Maryland, this didn’t turn out the way it has so many times before. It was the Nittany Lions making clutch shots and free throws down the stretch, and keeping the Terps just far enough that a miracle seemed less and less possible with every ticking second.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room: Maryland has been plagued by a recurring belief that, for the past few years, it’s been a really lucky team that has outperformed its expectations, winning an inordinate amount of the close games it found itself in. This belief also coincides with the arrival of Melo Trimble in College Park, so the Maryland faithful attribute the close-game results to his ability to close, instead of looking at it as an anomaly. So, what was tonight? If we are to believe that Maryland has been getting lucky recently, then it’s easy to explain away this loss as regression to the mean. You can’t win all your close games. However, if we are to believe Maryland fans, and luck has nothing to do with it, how do you explain losing a game to a team that just came off a home loss to the worst team in the Big Ten? You decide.

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%

First the glaringly obvious, my lord that free throw rate differential! Sure, the late game free throws to extend it skew this a little, but not by much. Penn State getting back to basics on defense also led to a more even rebounding margin, even if they lost that battle. The turnover rate look that close due to Penn State being unable to break Maryland’s late-game press, but don’t be fooled. Penn State had less than five turnover for most of the game.

Player of the Game: Lamar Stevens 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist

Lamar seemed to have hit a freshman wall in the recent past (with the exception of the Indiana game), but today he performed admirably, leading all scorers with 25 points. Honorable mention go to the bigs, who combined 11 of 12 at the free throw line.

Random Thoughts

1) We’ll take the leftovers, thanks. - Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, two of our best recruits in recent memory, were merely an afterthought for a Maryland program aiming for something better. Maryland’s offers to both were in name only, and there was no way these guys would ever make it to College Park even if they hadn’t committed to the Nittany Lions. They combined for 39 points in this game. Thanks for the leftovers guys!

2) Step aside, Jeckyll! It’s Hyde Time! - As we’ve come to expect, this is the game Penn State decided to play well, and not the other one. Any objections?

3) First Road Loss - This is actually Maryland’s first road loss of the Big Ten Season. Amazing! It’s also, by the way, the same score as last season’s game.

4) You thought they’d make it easy? - Penn State hit the dreaded 14-point lead at some point in the second half. You knew at that point this game would come down to the last possession. And it almost did.


Looking Ahead

Penn State takes its show on the road again to face Illinois. The Fighting Illini will look to avenge a loss in the first meeting. Game is this Saturday, February 11, at 2:00 PM EST on BTN.