For most of the first half Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center, it looked like this might finally be the game where Penn State won its first conference game of the year. In the end, however, familiar shooting struggles caught up with the Nittany Lions as they eventually fell 58-49 to Purdue.
Freshmen Ronnie Johnson and A.J. Hammons led the way for Purdue offensively, scoring 16 and 15 points, respectively. Johnson a 5-foot-10 guard, torched the Lions’ defense with his quickness, while Hammons, a 7-foot, 280 pound center wreaked havoc for Penn State’s post players all night. In fact, forwards Sasa Borovnjak and Jon Graham both fouled out in under 20 minutes of trying to defend Hammons.
D.J. Newbill led Penn State with 17 points and also dished out seven assists. Jermaine Marshall struggled mightily and converted just 2-of-14 shot attempts for just seven points — eight points below his usual per-game average. Ross Travis was a bright spot off the bench with eight points and eight rebounds.
As a team, Penn State shot 30.6 percent (19-62, 2-20 from three), scoring an awful 48 points on a season-high 62 shot attempts. That’s not very efficient basketball.
“They were giving us some good looks. A lot of shots went up. We missed some shots we normally make,” said D.J. Newbill.
Penn State head coach Pat Chambers attributed the loss to two specific portions of the game.
“I’m going to tell you where we lost the game — the last four minutes of the first half, and the first four minutes of the second half. That’s it,” Chambers said. “We played great for 32 minutes and did a lot of great things. We had a couple great looks, but they just didn’t fall.”
Throughout the first 16 minutes of play, the Lions were playing tough defense, dominating the offensive glass, and six different players had scored to help Penn State jump out to a 21-12 lead. Then, in what has been true Penn State style, instead of keeping their foot on the gas and closing out the half with a commanding lead, they missed open shots, committed six fouls, and Purdue was able to creep back with a 12-4 run to end the half. All of a sudden, Penn State led by just a point at halftime, 25-24.
Penn State started out the first four minutes of the second half with a similar lackluster effort, missing their first six shots and allowing Purdue to jump out to a lead they would never relinquish. The Boilermakers’ lead grew as large as 12, but Newbill led the Lions back to as close as five with 3:40 left. On the following possession, Penn State nearly cut the lead to two when a Nick Colella three-point attempt seemingly touched every portion of the rim before spinning out. That was as close as the Lions would get en route to another close loss.
Despite another loss, Chambers is still demanding a positive attitude from his team.
“When you go through adversity and challenges, it’s real easy to start pointing fingers. And it’s really easy to not stick together. We got to get each other’s backs and when times get tough we got to come together even more. That’s the way this program is gonna handle itself and we’re gonna get back to work tomorrow,” Chambers said.
Penn State will head out on the road for their next chance for a Big Ten win — a Saturday night contest at Nebraska.