UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State may be improved over recent seasons, with a solid road record (4-3), wins over two ranked opponents (Purdue and Michigan State) and already the most victories ever under sixth-year coach Ed DeChellis.
But Sunday at the Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions proved they are still not quite ready for prime time. Playing before the largest home crowd since 2001 and facing a lower-tier Big Ten team, PSU came through with an epic dud in a 54-44 loss to Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions went 0 of 14 from the arc, posted a season-low point total and received a combined 25 points from its top three offensive weapons in losing.
''We didn't give them much to cheer about and that's disappointing,'' DeChellis said of the crowd of 14,686 which caused the curtains that usually block portions of the upper deck to be lifted completely. ''We had a great opportunity tonight and did not take advantage of it.''
Penn State fell to 17-7 overall and 6-5 in the Big Ten with its second straight loss. Wisconsin, which is a shell of the NCAA Tournament power of recent years, improved to 14-9 and 5-6 after entering this game having dropped six of seven.
''As a team, we have to figure out what is going to get us back on track,'' said Lion senior forward Jamelle Cornley, whose four points were 11 below his season average.
Coupled with Thursday's loss at Michigan, Penn State has now put together three straight quarters where it has failed to score more than 23 points. That has happened because the Lions have been unable to get Cornley the ball in the paint (he had only seven shots Sunday) while their two most potent perimeter threads - guards Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle - went a combined 8 of 25 from the floor and 0 of 9 from the arc.
Battle, the Big Ten's leading scorer going into the game, has gone a combined 7 of 31 from the field and 1 of 15 from 3-point range in State's last two outings. Like the Wolverines, the Badgers got it done by throwing a physical guard at him, this time Trevon Hughes.
''I think the physical-ness of the league is working on him mentally,'' Cornley said.
The same can be said for the entire team. The Badgers clearly are not as athletic as the Nittany Lions, so they went with a grind it out style that emphasized long offensive possessions, controlling the defensive glass and avoiding turnovers (they had six in the game). Defensively, they pushed out on Battle and Pringle, and helped out when either drove.
Three-point looks were at a premium in the first half, as PSU only tried six and missed them all. Areas where the Lions usually compensate for poor shooting - scoring off offensive rebounds and fast breaks - were not producing dividends, either. State did not have a single offensive rebound in the first half and scored once in transition, and trailed 28-21 at the break.
PSU had two fast break points and two second-chance points in the game.
''When you're not making shots, nothing really seems to work,'' DeChellis said.
Penn State attempted to make things interesting midway through the second half, drawing within 36-34 on a pair of Battle free throws. But Wisconsin went on a 7-0 run to build another cushion.
During that span, Battle missed a wide-open 3-point look from the corner. Shortly after, he missed another triple from beyond the top of the key, and shrugged in disgust. Penn State was down 43-34, and it was obvious that a comeback against a methodical group like the Badgers was not going to happen.
The crowd began filing out during the last media timeout of the second half. With PSU now facing a tough stretch of three road trips in four games - with the only home tilt against a No. 19 Minnesota team that annihilated the Lions in Minneapolis earlier in the season - it remains to be seen how many return.
''I want to take my hat off to those who came,'' Cornley said. ''That was one of the highlights of my collegiate career ... the curtains to be moved. ... Of course you wish that you could top that off with a victory, and you want to make sure those people continue to come. We didn't do so tonight.''
GAME NOTES: One bright spot for the Lions: they broke out of their free-throw shooting slump by making 10 of 14. ... Next up is a road trip to No. 12 Purdue Wednesday (6:30 p.m. tip).