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Penn State 74, VCU 86: Lions Go 0-fer In ESPN Events Invitational

The tournament was disastrous for the Lions.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams guard Michael Belle (8) drives to the basket guarded by Penn State Nittany Lions forward Puff Johnson (4) in the first half during the ESPN Invitational Events tournament seventh place game at State Farm Field House. Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Against four overmatched opponents, Penn State looked like a team that might not be in rebuilding mode in 2023-24. After playing three top 100 opponents, however, they looked like a team that will struggle to win in double digits this season. The truth may lay somewhere in the middle, but it certainly doesn’t shake the “early Pat Chambers years” feeling coming out of this tournament. Penn State certainly didn’t look bad, per se, but still ended up losing by double digits to both Butler and Texas A&M down the stretch, even though the games were competitive.

Against VCU, the story was pretty similar. Penn State got down 7 points in the first six minutes of the game, and, every time the Lions came back, VCU had an answer. For a brief moment, they got a lead off a D’Marco Dunn three, but he immediately reacted to the VCU bench after hitting the three, which led to a technical foul and a VCU lead once more.

It was back and forth for a time as the first half wound down, Penn State couldn’t keep the pace late, and VCU took a six point lead into the half, at 46-40.

Penn State came out on fire in the second half, however, closing that six point deficit to three in the first three minutes of the half. For as fired up as Penn State was, VCU was equally lulled. The intensity the Rams played with in the first half seemed to be gone, whether due to physical fatigue or mental fortitude, Penn State certainly looked in control for the first part of the second half.

That, of course, was until both teams got hit with technicals during the Under-16 timeout. Favour Aire reacted to Roosevelt Wheeler, who, after fouling Qudus Wahab, pushed him around on the way to the bench. The exchange gave Wheeler two fouls in one, which put him on the bench with four. That seemed to have woken up the Rams, who, after finding themselves down three, retook the lead going into the Under-12 timeout.

VCU built a five-point lead after taking it, and, from there, the game played out the way it effectively did for the first half. The Lions couldn’t shoot for a time, VCU added to their lead little by little, and every time the Lions did anything to close out the gap, the Rams did something to extend it.

And, like the other two games before it, Penn State simply ran out of gas as the game wore out, and lost by double digits to their third opponent in a row.

Player of the Game

Ace Baldwin - 27 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block

Baldwin was all over the place in this game, especially with Kanye Clary missing most of it with an injury to his right arm. He and Wahab were the only ones to score in the second half.

Random Observations

Is it tempo or defense - The over hit in every single one of these games. Is it the tempo, or is the defense not as good as we originally thought?

Intensity everywhere - Maybe not malicious in intent, but you could tell these teams, composed of former teammates on both sides, were ready to play from the start. The technical fouls on both sides of the ball are indication of what these teams were playing for.

Ouch - Kanye Clary got hurt in the first half, and was seen with his right forearm heavily wrapped and iced. Luckily, Clary is left-handed, so he was able to come back in the game later in the second half.

And you get a technical - Both teams got multiple technical fouls in this game. Somehow someway, no one got ejected.

Looking Ahead

The Nittany Lions’ return home for another game against an overmatched opponent in Bucknell. Game is on December 2nd, at noon, on the B1G Network.