Lions struggle to score again

UNIVERSITY PARK – It may have been blustery and cold outside the Jordan Center early Saturday afternoon. But drought conditions materialized inside the arena, especially in the first half of Penn State’s 65-51 loss to No. 14 Ohio State.

On their way to an eighth straight loss to begin the Big Ten season, the Nittany Lions (8-12, 0-8) did not make a field goal during a 10:31 span of the opening period. They went from being in an 11-11 tie to trailing, 25-12.

Despite playing the Buckeyes (15-4, 5-2) evenly the rest of the way, Penn State remained thirsty for its first conference victory of the year.

“[OSU] played good defense, but at the same time we had good shots,” said guard Jermaine Marshall, who led the Lions with 16 points. “They’re a great defensive team. But when we get open shots, we have to knock them down.”

Marshall and backcourt mate D.J. Newbill (15 points) lamented the fact that during the dry spell Penn State was missing shots it usually makes. But that was not quite accurate. The Lions entered the game ranked last in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (39) and 3-point percentage (27.8). Marshall and Newbill are the only reliable offensive options, and were the only Nits in doubles (again) Saturday.

Newbill scored on a layup with 13:34 left in the first half to knot the score 11-11. From there, State would miss 13 straight shots, some in spectacular fashion.

Center Jon Graham found himself alone 10 feet from the bucket, delayed for a second and then launched. It was an air ball. A couple of minutes later, center Sasa Borovnjak tried a hook in the lane. Another air ball.

Rookie forward Brandon Taylor also added an air ball among his four missed triples during the drought. The whole time, PSU coach Pat Chambers was encouraging his crew to keep right on shooting.

“I felt like we shared the ball and got really good shots,” Chambers said. “For whatever reason, they’re not going down right now. That’s youth. One thing I was happy about is that we didn’t compound our problems.”

The poor shooting did not impact other areas of Penn State’s game. Even while struggling, the Lions kept scrapping on defense, making the longer and more athletic Buckeyes fight for everything.

So when Marshall finally ended the scoreless streak with a 3-pointer with 3:03 left in the first half, Penn State somehow found itself only trailing by 10, 25-15. But it might as well have been 30.

Because even with a season-best crowd of 11,212 cheering them on, the Lions simply were not equipped to overcome a double-digit deficit against a team as good as Ohio State.

Down by as many as 13 in the first half, Penn State saw its deficit float between nine and 17 in the second before finally falling by 14. So the final 23 minutes were basically a wash. Forwards Sam Thompson (16 points) and Deshaun Thomas (11) handled most of the scoring load for the Buckeyes, while Aaron Craft played his typically strong floor game (five assists, one turnover).

As for the Lions, it was easy to spot a handful of positives, even as their losing streak dragged on. Matched up against the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Craft, Newbill – playing out of position at the point – had six assists and only one turnover. PSU as a team had a season-low four turnovers.

And fueled by the attacking style of Marshall and Newbill, Penn State went to the foul line 17 times in the second half. Overall, the Lions outscored OSU in the paint, 20-16. And clearly, they never gave up, even when it was obvious a win was not in the cards on this day.

“I don’t know if there’s a team in the Big Ten that plays harder,” Buckeye coach Thad Matta said.

The negatives? Well, PSU hit only 7 of 24 shots in the first half and 17 of 47 in the game. It was 4 of 17 from the arc. It was 13 of 22 from the stripe, causing Chambers to lament, “If you’re going to upset a team like Ohio State, you can’t go 13 of 22.”

You can’t go 11 minutes plus without making a bucket, either.

“I’m hoping they’re going to go down one of these times,” Chambers said.

Game notes: The season-best crowd could not have come at a better time. It was Coaches vs. Cancer Band Together Day at the BJC, and Penn State is donating $3 from every ticket sold to the charity. … The Lions have now lost 18 straight to OSU. … PSU matched a season-high with seven blocks. … Penn State is at Iowa Thursday in a game that tips at 8 p.m. It will be televised by ESPNU.