The Big Ten is not a conference where teams just chalk up games as wins very often. In fact, “recent No. 1 and soon to no longer be No. 1” Purdue learned that lesson just a few days ago, as they lost to “unranked, hapless, and likely to finish near the basement” Rutgers on a last second shot.
But, when it comes to Penn State playing Michigan State at Breslin Center, it’s one of the easiest games to chalk up as a loss for the Nittany Lions, even before the season starts. Penn State has rarely won at Breslin, and most losses have been in the bad side of double digits.
Thus, when the Nittany Lions made the trip to face the Spartans on Saturday, only the most degenerate of gamblers or the most devoted* of fans though Penn State could keep it close, let alone stand a chance to win.
For the first part of the first half, it certainly looked like Penn State was up to the task. The Nittany Lions, although unable to stop the Spartans’ transition game, were matching Michigan State point for point. Any time it looked like Michigan State would go on a run, the Nittany Lions found a way to respond. The avoided going down too much, and at times were able to take the lead themselves.
Unfortunately, Penn State got cold from the floor, and the Spartans’ transition game made things a lot tougher. Suddenly, the Lions found themselves down eight, then down nine, then down 12, and their inability to stop Michigan State in transition, coupled with their inability to continue matching Michigan State point for point, was too much to bear.
Penn State, surprisingly, only turned the ball over four times in the first half. Two of them led to Michigan State points, but the biggest issue in the half was Penn State being unable to play at their own pace, because the Spartans were at the rim, usually scoring, by the time the Lions were ready to get set on defense.
Another aspect of the first half making matters worse was the Nittany Lions going 0-7 from three. It wouldn’t be until the 16 minute mark in the second half before seeing the first made three by the Lions. They still only made five for the game (out of 20 attempts), while the Spartans went nine of 21 on their own side of the ball.
Michigan State ballooned the lead to as many as 19 in the second half. The Lions cut it back down to 12, and stayed within that range for a good portion of the second half, but ultimately, Michigan State proved too much to handle, as the transition game (31 fast break points to one. Yes, one) kept Penn State off balance all game long.
Four Factors Analysis
It’s a bit alarming that both Ohio State and Michigan state reached an eFG rate of over 60%, as the Spartans barely edged out the mark, while the Buckeyes are a slightly higher 62.3%. The Lions will need to find ways to stop the rest of the Big Ten from scoring at will, but the good news is that only Iowa and Nebraska play faster than the Spartans, but neither of those teams is as good as Michigan State is. If Penn State is able to slow down the game to their desired pace, they should be able to go back to holding teams to much less efficient outings.
Penn State was never going to get favorable calls at Breslin, but the Spartans shooting free throws at double the rate of the Nittany Lions is a bit much. It’s easy to say “stop fouling,” but that’s easier said than done.
Players of the Game
The trio of John Harrar, Jalen Pickett, and Seth Lundy effectively kept the Lions in this game, as they combined for 47 of Penn State’s 64 points. Harrar had himself another double-double with 11 rebounds to match. Pickett added three steals and five assists, while Lundy had seven rebounds and an assist of his own.
Greg Lee Sighting - Lee played for 15 minutes in this game. One of Penn State’s two missing pieces has made it back on the floor. His shot looked a little rusty to start, but he ended up with two field goals, one of which was a three pointer. It became immediately apparent how Lee is going to help the Lions down the stretch, once he’s got a couple of games under his belt.
Now we await Jevonnie Scott.
Refs - we will not complain about them. That’s all.
One thing at a time - Penn State took care of the ball in this game. Now, the goal is to continue to take care of the ball, and get to a point where they can start working on other things, like transition defense. That’s how a team gets better down the stretch.
Penn State continues its third leg of the non conference schedule, as it travels to VCU on Saturday, December 18th. Game will be at 3:30 PM Eastern, on ESPN Plus.