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Penn State 81, Georgia Tech 82: Stolen

Penn State completed the comeback. The refs had other ideas.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Naithan George (2) drives past Penn State Nittany Lions forward Leo O’Boyle (11) in the first half at Madison Square Garden. Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

A win over Ohio State a week ago gave the Nittany Lions some life. They headed to Madison Square Garden to take on a Georgia Tech team that had similarly looked lifeless for a good portion of its schedule, only to come back and knock off two ranked team in Duke and Mississippi State. Both teams, playing against what they believe is a winnable opponent, were looking to keep the momentum going.

The Nittany Lions grabbed the momentum early, as they were making just about every shot they wanted, and turning the Yellow Jackets over at a decent clip. Several times throughout the first half, the Nittany Lions found themselves up four or five. That is until Georgia Tech figured out Penn State’s weakness. The Yellow Jackets started attacking the glass, out rebounding Penn State by 18. And, when the inevitable drought game, Georgia Tech used it to build their own six-point lead.

The Lions looked poised to go into the half down five, until Penn State’s first offensive rebound of the game, with less than two seconds left in the first half, gave the Nittany Lions one more opportunity. Ace Baldwin took the tap out, shot from beyond the arc, and made a three-pointer as time expired to go down two into the half.

The Yellow Jackets followed the game plan into the second half, and slowly, but surely, built on their lead. Penn State found itself down 10 with about five minutes left to play, due largely to the Lions being unable to do anything inside. Every rebound went Georgia Tech’s way, every loose ball bounced in their direction, and, as the game came to its final minutes, things looked like they did back in Orlando.

And then, the defensive tenacity we were promised finally showed up. The Nittany Lions started turning Georgia Tech over, Puff Johnson, who had zero points in the first half, started making threes, and Penn State clawed back into it. With about 13 seconds left in the game and the ball, Ace Baldwin tried to go for the game winner, but took an ill-advised three pointer with plenty of time still left, which sent the game to overtime.

Like the second half, it looked like Georgia Tech was going to run away with it in the OT. The Nittany Lions, to their credit, kept fighting and forcing the Jackets to work for every point. That’s until the refs decided to take matters into their own hands. Down 1, with the last possession of the game, Georgia Tech made their play, took their shot, missed it, then a fight for the loose ball ensued. Somehow someway, Baldwin was called for a foul that didn’t exist (commentators remarked on there being no contact). Tech made their two free throws, and Penn State’s attempt with two seconds left fell short.

Players of the Game

Ace Baldwin Jr. - 18 points, 7 assists, 4 steals
Kanye Clary - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
D’Marco Dunn - 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Puff Johnson - 15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals

For those of you who can math good, you’ll see that the above four players had 73 of Penn State’s 81 points. Not bad overall, but when Johnson’s 15 points all came in the second half, you can see where the Lions needed to fight tooth and nail to stay in this game down the stretch.

Random Observations

Defense oh defense - If not for the last five minutes, this blurb would be a lot more critical of the Lion defense. While points in the paint closed out pretty evenly, Georgia Tech was eating Penn State alive for the majority of the game. And, for whatever reason, Penn State is having a lot of trouble rebounding the ball.

Showing fight - On the other hand, the Lions have now fought back from being down double digits in two games, splitting the results. The fight is starting to show up.

Keep shooting it - Shots weren’t always falling, but Penn State’s shooters kept shooting. Soon enough the threes started going in, and they were able to close out the deficit.

Looking Ahead

Penn State returns home to take on Le Moyne on Thursday, December 21st. Game tips off at 7 PM on Peacock.