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Penn State 72, Ole Miss 74: Nittany Lions Miss On A Golden Opportunity

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Penn State hasn’t fared well in these types of tournaments. Tonight looked like it was more of the same.

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

When Penn State beat Georgetown on the road by a healthy margin, there was cause for skepticism. We didn’t know how good the Hoyas would be. Was losing the Nittany Lions a sign of things to come? Following up that performance by narrowly avoiding disaster against Yale at home, and anyone would be justified in doubting whether what we’ve seen so far in this early season is a mirage.

Against Ole Miss in the opening game of the NIT Tipoff, however, we saw a Nittany Lion squad start fast and keep the foot on the gas, opening up a quick 7-point lead early in the game. By the 10-minute mark, the Nittany Lions were already up by the under-8 media timeout, the Lions had ballooned the lead to 13. Everything the Rebels tried to do was answered by the Lions, who saw their lead grow as big as 20 before they settled with a 26-point halftime lead.

Ole Miss, of course, was not going to go down without a fight. The Rebels came back swinging in the second half, cutting the lead down to three points with a little over three minutes left in the game. Lamar Stevens, who had a quiet first half, woke up once again and ended up with 22 points and seven rebounds for the game. He and Mike Watkins continued his monster game in the second half, were instrumental in preventing the Rebels from completing the comeback. Watkins was blocking just about anything Ole Miss put up. It was a sight to behold.

The key to Ole Miss’s comeback attempt was an array of three-point shots that fell, powered by quick run outs off Penn State misses and turnovers. A key moment in the game came on an 1-and-1 where Stevens missed the front end. Making that shot could have put the Lions up six, potentially seven, but instead lead to the Rebels making a quick one on the other end, which led to them tying the game one possession later. A turnover on the last possession of the game sealed the deal for the Nittany Lions.

This game showed plenty of old habits —going for long stretches without a field goal, panicking when the going got tough, blowing giant leads, and missing free throws at key times. Pat Chambers will have a ton of tape to break down and issues to correct going forward.

Four Factors Analysis

Things were great, until they weren’t. Free throws weren’t great, but Penn State was making them for a stretch. Then, there was the one free throw they needed to make, and that was the one Lamar Stevens missed. Everything else, as you can see above, was pretty even for both teams. Rebounds were even at 27 apiece.

Player of the Game

Watkins had himself a game, even if in a loss. We will need outings like this in order to keep the dream alive.

Random Observations

Mike Watkins was good tonight - Like, good good.

The rest of the team, not so much. Lamar Stevens woke up in the second half, but he once again had a first half to forget. Obviously everything went the Rebels’ way in that second half, but maybe, just maybe, if he were on from the start the lead is large enough?

They were going to lose eventually - We all knew they would lose eventually. What we didn’t realize is it would come in such excruciating fashion. Being up double digits for most of the second half, then letting it all fade away in a snap, is really disappointing.

Looking Ahead

Penn State will play the loser of Oklahoma State and Syracuse on Friday, November 29th, at 9 PM Eastern. ESPN2 has the call.