Penn State had done unto them what they had done onto others to date. The Nittany Lions fell down big early, playing catchup from the get go, in a game where the Lions’ biggest deficiency was on full display from the start.
Virginia Tech got everything they wanted and then some from inside, as the Hokies would go on to score 40 of its 61 points in the paint. Compound that with a relatively abysmal 36.7% rate from three on the Nittany Lion side, and Penn State simply couldn’t do enough to fully take control of the game, even when they closed it out late.
Like a repeat of yesterday for both teams, the Hokies were the ones to start on fire in the first half. Virginia Tech only made five threes in the game, but two of them came within the first three minutes of the game, helping them open an early 16-point lead that set the tone for the rest of the contest. The Nittany Lions effectively played comeback basketball from there on out, whittling the deficit to eight at halftime.
The second half saw some back and forth, but more back than forth as Penn State would keep shrinking the deficit slowly, but every time they would come close Virginia Tech would do something to stay at arm’s length. The biggest takeaway being their ability to push the ball inside, where just about everyone, especially Grant Basile, had their way with the Lions.
Penn State would close it out to a two point deficit a couple of times, and even had the chance to win it with the last possession of the game, but a Cam Wynter turnover basically ended those hopes, and so the Lions go on to play for third place on Sunday.
Four Factors Analysis
The more frustrating part of Penn State’s struggles in the paint is that they were actually even in the rebounds department, with 34 apiece. Penn State was simply unable to get anything going inside, while Virginia Tech rarely missed when they were able to get to the paint.
This was also another game where Penn State, for whatever reason, simply didn’t make it to the free throw line. They only shot four free throws, all by Lundy, who went 2-for-4 at the line.
Players of the Game
Andrew Funk - 21 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal
Funk was in a funk early in the game, but he was ultimately able to shake it off and came up with some big shots to make this one close.
Myles Dread - 15 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal
The only other Nittany Lion in double figures, Dread also contributed some key three pointers to keep the Lions in it in the second half. The assignment at the five was a little tougher today, but Dread kept pace when Kebba Njie and Caleb Dorsey were ineffective.
Progress isn’t linear - We saw signs of progress from Njie in the first four games, but today, against more experienced big men, we saw the freshmanness, for lack of a better word, out of the big man. Evan Mahaffey, on the other hand, showed flashes of progress himself in the second half of the game, and it’s starting to be clear how the newcomers are going to contribute, and who those people will be.
Inside presence - Not to belabor the point, but Penn State will need to figure something out quickly, as big men are a staple of the Big Ten. If teams can simply throw the ball inside with reckless abandon and come out ahead, days like today where the Lions took a real long time to make their threes will continue to lead to comeback bids that fall short, or comeback bids that don’t happen at all.
Penn State will play for third place on Sunday, against the loser of the Charleston/Colorado State game. Game will tip off at 6:00 PM on Sunday on ESPNU.