Nittany Lions miss big opportunity
UNIVERSITY PARK — As Penn State tried to storm another comeback against No. 17 Michigan, the same errors that have haunted its NCAA tournament resume returned.
Missed free throws, turnovers and other mishaps allowed the Wolverines to protect their late lead and win, 72-63.
Tony Carr recorded a game-high 21 points and Lamar Stevens added 19. But the Lions’ bench was ineffective, adding only six points to the Wolverines’ 34.
As limiting as not having help from the bench was, an injured Mike Watkins proved much more crippling.
Heading into the contest, the individual matchups favored Penn State. The Wolverines didn’t have an interior talent to match the Lions’ dominant forward in Watkins.
Watkins, who had the third-best shooting percentage in the nation heading into the matchup, injured his leg under four minutes into the contest and needed assistance to reach the locker room. Even though he returned to the court 10 minutes later after pleading his case to Chambers, Watkins stayed in the locker room after the halftime break.
“To give our team the best psychological chance was to keep him in the locker room,” Chambers said.
Coach John Beilein noted that he was worried about the Lions’ faster lineup with Watkins out. Any worries the veteran coach had were quickly erased.
The Wolverines converted on seven of their first nine shots. The Lions didn’t fare nearly as well, making only four of their first 13 attempts.
“I don’t think they really respected our fives (interior players),” Chambers said, referring to Watkins replacements in Satchel Pierce and Julian Moore.
The Lions defense needed to slow down the Wolverines’ perimeter game, which is arguably the best in the conference. The effort did little to limit the Wolverines 3-point shooters, who recorded 10 pivotal conversions.
“That’s their game,” Shep Garner said. “We knew what they did well.”
“When you give up 10 3s to Michigan,” Chambers said, “it’s going to be a tough outing for sure.”
Led by bench player Duncan Robinson, who missed only one of his first six shots, Michigan went on an early 14-2 run that featured multiple turnovers, fouls and missed shots by the Lions.
“This is a role that he’s really embraced,” Beilein said of Robinson, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “It’s very hard to sit there for 10 minutes then come in and shoot. And he can do that.”
Stevens salvaged momentum for the Nittany Lions before the halftime break. The sophomore scored four points to cut the Wolverines lead, 34-26.
“We knew we didn’t play well,” Chambers said of the first half.
The team made adjustments at halftime that quickly made a difference.
For all the defensive energy the Lions lacked in the first half, their second-half effort more than compensated. Four minutes into the second half, Penn State took control.
“I hated the way we started the second half,” Beilein said. “It seemed like we were tired and didn’t want to play with the same conviction we did in the first half.”
Stevens blocked a lofty layup from Moritz Wagner and Carr scored in quick succession on an and-1 to give the Lions the lead, 39-38.
Soon thereafter, Stevens sent the crowd of 13586 into a frenzy that is foreign to Happy Valley outside of football season. Carr made a deep pass to the backboard, where Stevens was waiting for an acrobatic alley-oop.
Wagner, who finished with 18 points, limited the fun in the Bryce Jordan Center, nailing two 3-pointers and giving Michigan the lead again.
Each big play the Lions made to get back into the game in the final minutes was quashed by sombering mistakes. Most of those mistakes were made at the free throw line, where the Lions went 6-11.
“It’s been a big concern all year,” Chambers said of the team’s free throw shooting.
The Lions will travel to Nebraska on Sunday for their final regular season game.
In addition to a win against the Cornhuskers, Penn State needs to have an impressive — and possibly championship garnering — performance in the Big Ten tournament next week to make it into the NCAA tournament.
MICHIGAN (23-7): Wagner 5-9 4-4 18, Livers 0-0 2-2 2, Simpson 4-10 1-2 9, Abdur-Rahkman 3-6 2-4 9, Matthews 0-5 0-0 0, Teske 0-2 0-0 0, Poole 4-8 3-3 13, Brooks 1-2 0-0 2, Simmons 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 6-9 4-4 19. Totals 23-51 16-19 72.
PENN ST. (19-11): Stevens 9-19 0-4 19, Moore 2-4 2-2 6, Carr 8-18 1-1 21, Reaves 2-3 3-4 8, Garner 1-6 0-0 3, Pierce 1-2 0-0 2, Watkins 0-2 0-0 0, Harrar 1-1 0-0 2, Zemgulis 0-0 0-0 0, Bostick 1-4 0-0 2, Wheeler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 6-11 63.
Halftime–Michigan 34-26. 3-Point Goals–Michigan 10-21 (Wagner 4-5, Robinson 3-6, Poole 2-2, Abdur-Rahkman 1-3, Brooks 0-1, Matthews 0-1, Simpson 0-3), Penn St. 7-18 (Carr 4-8, Reaves 1-2, Stevens 1-3, Garner 1-5). Fouled Out–Reaves. Rebounds–Michigan 32 (Wagner 8), Penn St. 26 (Stevens 8). Assists–Michigan 15 (Abdur-Rahkman 5), Penn St. 10 (Carr 6). Total Fouls–Michigan 15, Penn St. 19. A–13,586 (15,261).