Penn State Falls To No. 4 Wisconsin On The Road, 89-72
Penn State was expected to be dismantled by No. 4 Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison, but ended up giving the Badgers a run for their money. In the first half, that is.
The Nittany Lions (12-2, 0-1) lost 89-72, despite a 29 point scoring outburst by D.J. Newbill, in a game nobody expected them to win. After a streak of hot shooting to begin the game, Penn State’s woeful second half start opened the door for the Badgers (13-1, 1-0) to jump ahead for good, ending the Lions’ impressive 10 game winning streak.
Right from the get-go, it was evident that Wisconsin All-American center Frank Kaminsky was going to be a nightmare to defend. He opened up the scoring with a nice jumper after absolutely working over Penn State center Jordan Dickerson down low. The Lions looked overwhelmed early, allowing Wisconsin to begin the game on an 8-0 run. The team settled in a bit and regained composure, answering with a 6-0 run of their own to cut the Badgers’ lead to two with about 15 minutes to play in the first half. From that point on, it was a shootout.
Led by a scorching-hot Newbill, Penn State battled the Badgers, trading jumpers and fouls, while keeping the energy high. Wisconsin held an edge on the glass, but the Nittany Lions simply would not go away. A three pointer by Geno Thorpe at around the six minute mark gave Penn State its largest lead of the game, pulling ahead 30-27. This would also be Penn State’s final lead of the game, as sloppy ball handling coupled with missed opportunities on the boards allowed Wisconsin to end the first half on a 13-6 run, leading 43-36 at the break. Despite the Badgers’ offensive outburst to end the half, the Nittany Lions were still within striking distance. As a team, the Lions shot 64% from the field in the first half, highlighted by Newbill’s 6-7 shooting performance.
In the second half, however, the Nittany Lions turned ice cold, going over three minutes without a field goal after an early jumper by Brandon Taylor. Wisconsin proved why it was ranked No. 4 in the country by absolutely stifling the Nittany Lions in the paint, while catching fire from the field. Nigel Hayes, who finished with 21 points on 7-9 shooting, was a big factor in the Badgers’ second half surge, dominating down low, drawing foul after foul. Geno Thorpe took a Ross Travis steal the other way to pull Penn State within single digits with just under 14 minutes to go, but more missed shots and sloppy play erased any hopes of a Penn State comeback.
The team’s final shooting percentage dipped to 53%, while the team finished a mere 5-12 from beyond the arc. Ross Travis led the team in rebounding with five, while also chipping in four points, one assist, and two steals. While leading the team in scoring, Newbill also contributed two rebounds, one assist, and two steals. Shep Garner and Geno Thorpe each finished with 11 apiece.
This game was a great test for a young Nittany Lions team, especially in the paint. Frank Kaminsky, who finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, and one steal, is one of the best big men in the nation, and the preseason All-American was easily the toughest opponent Penn State has faced all season.
The talent is there, but the team simply needs work. Sure, an upset would have been a spectacular way to begin conference play, but at the end of the day, what did you expect? The loss is a hard pill to swallow, and a sobering reminder that despite the team’s recent success, there is still work to be done as conference play opens up. Penn State’s 12-2 record is no fluke, and after a game like this, the team will only continue to improve. If the team can fix its issues down low, then there is still a chance the Nittany Lions will make a splash in conference play.
Next up for the Nittany Lions will be a struggling Rutgers squad–one that currently sits dead last in the Big Ten standings at 8-6–on Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Though 2014 could not be finished on a winning note, hope still remains for Penn State basketball as the New Year approaches.