Another exempt tournament, another disaster. The Nittany Lions went to Charleston last week looking to pass their first test of real competition. Instead, they were greatly exposed and left looking for answers…
Game 1: UNC-Wilmington 80 Penn State 69
Check this out. Penn State had only 5 turnovers (7.6% TO%), while grabbing 9 steals and forcing 15 (22.7% TO%) on defense. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds (37% OReb%), while corralling 80% of the available defensive rebounds. The Nittany Lions hit 22 of 27 from the foul line as a team (a very uncharacteristic 81.5%), while putting up 18 more shots than UNCW.
All of those stats are nice and pretty but the game of basketball is about putting the ball through the hoop. Penn State didn’t do that (a theme for this classic) while making it significantly easier for their opponents.
The numbers speak for themselves. Give credit to UNC-Wilmington for making that many shots, but plenty of them were great looks.
This was a pretty frustrating game. Penn State was sluggish throughout the first half and found themselves down 10, 31-21 with 7:00 minutes to go. They made a nice run to cut it down to 33-29 with under 3 minutes to go in the half, but David Jackson got abused inside on defense by 6-8 freshman, Will Ohuaregbe, for a hoop and a foul. After a Battle missed shot on the following possession, UNCW came down the floor and drained an open 3. After working hard for five minutes to cut into the lead, PSU immediately found themselves down 9 again, 38-29. They went to the half at 40-31 with all the momentum on the Seahawks’ side.
But PSU responded coming out of halftime. Four quick points from Chris Babb forced UNCW to call a timeout before a minute had passed in the second half. Penn State continued to hang tough for a while with the Seahawks and it was a 45-42 game. That was until more defensive collapses and an inefficient offense allowed UNC-W to go on a 15-5 run, expanding the lead to 60-47 at the under 8 media TO. It was one of those games where PSU kept trying to mount a comeback, but defensive meltdowns at all the wrong times kept PSU from getting over the hump. PSU made one last run (due to Battle/Frazier penetration that led to numerous foul shots for each player) at the Seahawks. I didn’t start to believe that they could do it until an emphatic alley-oop from Tim Frazier to Jeff Brooks cut the lead to 2, 64-62 with over 2 minutes to go. UNC-W was turning it over against the press and PSU was scoring from the foul line with the clocked stopped. It looked like the comeback was going to happen and PSU was going to escape. But PSU’s defense folded down the stretch, as UNCW got two easy buckets inside to respond to PSU’s run. Chris Babb missed an open 3 (he was 2-10 from 3 land this game), and Jeff Brooks turned it over on PSU’s next two possessions. UNC-W nailed their free throws down the stretch and finally started swatting Battle/Frazier drives instead of fouling.
You can check out the box score here to form your own impressions of how each player performed. Babb and Jones had terrible games, and Brooks was basically ignored the entire 2nd half. The offense was frustrating, but points were being scored. The defense is why PSU lost this game.
Game 2: Tulane 63 Penn State 60
This was an inexcusable loss. PSU didn’t play so well against the Seahawks the day before, but I was impressed by UNC-Wilmington. They didn’t look like a last place team in their conference, and they earned the victory. Tulane was not a good basketball team, didn’t play a good basketball game, but made the plays down the stretch to beat the sleepwalking Lions.
Tempo-free numbers in the 62 possession game:
Just a craptastic game all-around. The shooting woes continued, as you can see. Penn State made just 17 of 55 shot attempts and only 4 of 18 from the perimeter. Andrew Jones once again did nothing offensively, scoring 4 points on 8 shots against a Tulane squad that started nobody listed over 6’7″. Chris Babb started again and couldn’t find the touch on his jumper, shooting just 1 of 6 from 3 this game. Battle had a pretty poor game as well, only making 3 of his 13 shots. He couldn’t finish a lot of layups inside that he worked his ass off to get. He also hit just 1 of his 5 three pointers. For the second straight game though, he was able to get to the foul line and convert, going 8-8. David Jackson didn’t attack the rim and shot just 1-5. Jeff Brooks had one of his best games of his career, but he couldn’t carry the Lions to a victory. Jeff was the only one able to mix things up in the paint, scoring a career-high 15 points (6-11 from the field, made all 3 of his foul shots) to go along with 7 rebounds. He was the lone brightspot for the Nittany Lions in this game. I liked that DeChellis used more of his bench in this game (I felt like Highberger should’ve been given a chance against the Seahawks after how much Babb and others struggled from the perimeter). Frazier scored 8 points (6-7 from the foul line) and Highberger added 5.
I wouldn’t say the defense was significantly better this game. Tulane had an offensive efficiency of 101.6, and I really felt it could have been much better. They were missing some good shots and committing unforced turnovers. Tulane had 11 turnovers for the game, but PSU only had 1 steal. Also, the defense really struggled down the stretch, once again. There were a decent amount of fouls this game; PSU got whistled for 22, Tulane 23. Most of PSU fouls came on aggressive hedges that just weren’t necessary. None was more killer than Andrew Jones bumping Kevin Sims, Tulane’s best player, 25 feet from the hoop with only 1 minute left in the game and PSU clinging to a 1 point lead they had just recently earned. Tulane was already in the bonus and the foul gave Tulane 2 free points to retake the lead. It was a boneheaded play from a player who’s been in the program for 4 years and is looked upon as one of the leaders of this team. Frustrating, to say the least. PSU turned the ball over in 4 seconds and Tulane got 2 more points from the foul line to go up 59-56. PSU cut it to 1 on two Battle free throws, but Chris Babb slacked off too much on Sims during the end of Tulane’s next possession and the sharpshooter, who hadn’t scored a point in the season up until the second half of this game, drained an open 3 from the top of the key with 13 seconds left. The shot essentially ended the game.
This game brought back memories of the 2007 Old Spice Classic. Penn State had high hopes heading into that tourney, but lost to South Carolina, Rider, and Central Florida while finishing last. This was the most disappointing game of the trip for me, because it just didn’t look like the team wanted to win. At least not like last year’s squad. We knew Jamelle’s leadership was going to be something that had to be replaced, but I didn’t think the team would look this disinterested. There have been reports of a flu bug that hit the team in Charleston, and the guys did play a game just 24 hours earlier, but those are just excuses IMO. Good teams fight through adversities like that. Bad, bad loss.
Game 3: Penn State 59 Davidson 57
PSU had to desperately win this game and they did, but it was not pretty. The game wasn’t carried on TV, but I listened to Steve & Dick on the radio.
This game was a 10 AM tip, so I was concerned how PSU would come out to start the game. It’s gotta be pretty tough to play at 10 AM in front of no one, especially when you consider how poorly the previous few days had gone. But Penn State came out strong and jumped out to leads like 7-0, 20-4 and 28-9. It was nice to feel good about the team again, until they got complacent and reverted back to their original form in this tournament. It took just 11 minutes (over 2 halves) for Davidson to erase that great start for PSU. It was grinder from that point on until the end of the game.
Tim Frazier got his first career start, and Bill Edwards played his first game as a Nittany Lion. Bill has gotten a lot of hype from insiders, and his partially torn MCL was considered a setback for the whole team. He was expected to have a big impact on this year’s squad. Now DeChellis played 9 guys in this game, but two of them, Ott and Borovnjak, only combined for 10 minutes. Edwards and Babb were the only notable contributors off the bench. I think this speaks volumes for the coaching staff’s confidence in Bill’s game. Edwards came back from his injury early, and the coaches immediately threw him into the fire. Bill responded with 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists in 18 minutes. Impressive for a true freshman. The radio broadcasts on both sides were raving about Bill’s play, praising his aggressiveness and willingness to mix it up in the lane.
Jeff Brooks played another good game. He was the leading scorer with 12 points and had some huge plays down the stretch. Talor struggled. 11 points on 14 shots is not going to get it done. It was very disappointing to hear him miss a ‘good look’ from about 10 feet with 20 seconds left. PSU was only up 2 at that point and had an opportunity to really step on Davidson’s throat, but Battle couldn’t convert a good look late. They forced a missed shot on Davidson’s next possession, though, so it’s encouraging PSU won a game with a defensive stop.