Having had nearly a week to stew upon a disastrous trip to Florida, where they went 0-3 in the ESPN Events Invitational, Penn State was determined to take advantage of a “get right” game at home against a struggling Bucknell team in the first year of a major rebuild under their own new head coach, John Griffin.
Surely enough, the game started out looking like a “get right” one for the 22-point favorite Nittany Lions, as they began the game with a 9-2 advantage, thanks to Qudus Wahab getting six points early on and Zack Hicks nailing a three-pointer. Bucknell however, was not fazed and with some solid three-point shooting from Jack Forrest and post play from Noah Williamson, were able to claw their way back to making it a tight game, even leading for a couple of brief moments. The defense, despite accounting for nine turnovers, continued to look rather shaky, especially in the post.
Nonetheless, the Lions got some much-needed momentum in the waning seconds of the first half, as Ace Baldwin stole the ball and was fouled while launching a three-pointer from the top of the key, which nearly went in for a four-point play opportunity. Ace would go on to make all three free throws though, as PSU doubled up a three-point lead to take a 33-27 lead into the locker room at halftime. They would seemingly pick up where they left off to start the second half, as Ace and Wahab got buckets to boost PSU’s lead to double digits at 37-27 and the Lions would go on to ultimately put the Bison at bay and get back in the ‘W’ column...
Of course, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, Bucknell whittled that lead away by continuing to “bombs away” from downtown (finishing 10-for-21 from beyond the arc) with Forrest, while Williamson continued to have his way inside against Wahab, and the rest of the PSU team for that matter, showed a lack of interest in playing defense for a coach whose very calling card is defensive tenacity. With over 11 minutes to play in the game, it was all tied up and it would remain a tight game throughout, with Bucknell even leading at times. Ace would give PSU the lead back at 63-62 with three minutes to play, but it would end up being the last time the Lions would lead...
With Bucknell up 66-63, Wahab drew a foul with 2:06 to go, subsequently missed both free throws, and the Bison responded with a dagger of a trey by Quinn Berger to double the Nittany Lion deficit. Wahab would get back to the line with 1:19 left, this time making both his free throws, but the Lions would fail to close the gap any further, when Puff Johnson misfired on a trey with 45 seconds left, and Bucknell corralled the rebound and nailed both free throws and ultimately put the game away, including an “exclamation point” dunk on this giant shit sandwich of a game, one where PSU gave up 49 points in the second half to a 2-7 and KenPom-ranked 330th team in the country.
Player of the Game
Ace Baldwin - 17 points, 4 steals, 3 assists
For only the second time in his collegiate playing career, Ace started the game on the bench, with Leo O’Boyle taking his starting spot next to Kanye Clary. He did sub in for O’Boyle just a few minutes into the game though, and put up a stat line more conducive to what he is capable of. Thus, making him your player of the game.
- Umm, Defense??? If you thought Penn State would show some improved post defense this year, then you were sorely mistaken. As much as Wahab provides down low offensively, he has been a major liability defensively. Would it have killed Mike Rhoades to try and have someone help Wahab double up in the paint? One can only imagine how comical Zach Edey’s stat line is going to look like when they play Purdue. After a good start to the season, the defense as a whole has left a lot to be desired after that dismal performance in Florida and today’s game did absolutely nothing to ease any concerns going into Big Ten play this upcoming week.
- Don’t Worry Offense, I Didn’t Forget You - Perhaps the biggest concern when Mike Rhoades was hired was what the offensive philosophy would be and I’m sorry to report that we’ve got Pat Chambers with better overall talent: Tons of one-on-one isolation ball with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Joe Crispin was brought on as an assistant to try and give this team some perimeter shooting identity, but that’s rather difficult to pull off when you lack consistent, reliable, shooters.
- “Bold, Different, and Aggressive” My Ass - Remember the infamous pitch that Rhoades made in his first-ever press conference? We didn’t see any boldness, difference, or aggressiveness, today. Instead, we saw a listless team that had no interest in playing defense or committing to any basic fundamentals out there and a coaching staff that failed to make any real adjustments. It would be one thing if this team was just devoid of talent (like countless other PSU hoops teams I’ve watched in my 30 years as a fan), but that isn’t the case, here. There was absolutely no reason for this PSU team to allow this Bucknell squad to light them up and yet, they managed to do that, and then some. It was one of the most pathetic losses I’ve seen in a long time, and unless there is a major turnaround soon, my prediction of PSU avoiding dead last in the Big Ten is looking like it will be horribly wrong.
Penn State (4-4) hits the road for their Big Ten season opener at Maryland this Wednesday (December 6th). Tip-off will be at 7:00 PM EST on B1G Network, for all my fellow sickos who care to tune in.