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Maryland 67, Penn State 61: Second Half Lull Sinks Lions

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A big second half by Fatts Russel and Eric Ayala ended Penn State’s chance at a victory.

Penn State Nittany Lions guard Sam Sessoms (3) makes a move to the basket on Maryland Terrapins guard Ian Martinez (23) during the first half at Xfinity Center Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long time since Penn State has lost to Maryland in Basketball. In fact, prior to this game, the Nittany Lions had beaten the Terrapins four consecutive times, and had won seven of the last nine.

The streak ended, of course, but it took a monumental effort from the home team’s arguable two best players to get there, as Eric Ayala and Fatts Russel went off in the second half. Penn State, in yet another road performance to forget, allowed the aforementioned Russel and Ayala to score a combined 31 of Maryland’s 67 points. Donta Scott chipped in with 12 of his own, and quite easily the story tells itself.

If you’re looking for silver linings, this time it was three players who combined for two thirds of Maryland’s scoring output, as opposed to the two players it took Minnesota to achieve the same goal.

The first half, and the first part of the second half, were actually pretty even. Maryland came out gunning first, taking an early six point lead, but the Nittany Lions kept chipping away slowly, until, nearing the end of the half, they saw themselves up four. The Terrapins, taking advantage of Penn State’s untimely turnovers, managed to tie it going into the half.

The same story happened in the second. Penn State took an early four point lead, but, right around the 16-minute mark, Russel and Ayala took the game over, which also coincided with a switch to zone on the defensive end for Maryland. The combination of Ayala and Russel getting what they wanted on offense, and Penn State being unable to break down the Terps’ zone on defense blew the game wide open, and before you knew it, the game was well out of reach.

The Lions tried to come back, but by the time they figured out the zone, it was too little too late.

Four Factors Analysis

I’m not a big fan of “remove X” type of arguments, but remove the middle of that second half, and Maryland’s 1.08 PPP looks more like .98, a number Penn State can work with. Other than that, the game was pretty even. The free throw rate looks lopsided, but that’s mostly due to the Lions fouling at the end of the game in an effort to extend the contest.

Player of the Game

John Harrar had himself another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Sam Sessoms and Jalen Pickett pitched 17 and 13, respectively, to go along with six assists, four steals, and five rebounds for Picket, while Sessoms logged one assist and a rebound apiece. Unfortunately, the guards also combined for seven turnovers between the two of them.

Random Observations

Road woes continue - For as good as Penn State has played in most of Big Ten play, winning on the road has continued to prove elusive to the Lions, finding way after way to lose. This time around, being unable to figure out the zone did them in.

Another injury - Jaheam Cornwall had to leave the game with what appeared to be a twisted ankle. As the Lions’ depth starts to deplete, let’s hope it’s nothing serious.

6-6 anyway - Penn State is still tied with Maryland as conference Members. Go Lions!

Looking Ahead

Penn State returns home to close out the regular season at the Bryce Jordan Center for the next two contests. The first is a tilt with Northwestern on Friday, February 25th. The game is at 7 PM, network TBD.