Our Worst Nightmare Realized: Penn State Loses To Rutgers, 50-46
It was shaping up to be a dream season for Penn State basketball. The lone loss in double overtime to Charlotte. The nation’s fifth best scorer in D.J. Newbill. A 12-1 non-conference record, the team’s best start in a decade. Giving No. 4 Wisconsin all it could handle in Madison, trading buckets with a legitimate National Title contender.
Following a solid shooting performance in a loss to the Badgers, it appeared Penn State would get back on track with a conference win over a punchless Rutgers team that ranked 324th in the country in scoring. After all, the Nittany Lions had just put up 72 points against Wisconsin, shooting 57.1 percent from inside the arc and 41.7 percent from three.
Oh, but the Flaming Bus reared its ugly head. Penn State shot a nightmarish 28.8 percent from the field, including a paltry 5-for-27 from downtown, committed 12 turnovers, and sent Rutgers to the charity stripe 28 times, falling to the Scarlet Knights 50-46 on Saturday night in Piscataway.
With the win, Rutgers earns its first conference victory as a member of the Big Ten, while Penn State drops toward the bottom of the conference standings with an 0-2 record.
How It Happened
The game began with an auspicious start, as the Scarlet Knights raced out to an 11-1 lead five and half minutes in. The Lions bricked their first nine shots, with John Johnson mercifully ending the cold streak with a three pointer just over seven minutes into the game. Rutgers’ Kadeem Jack, who was recently removed from the starting lineup for missing a team breakfast and shot 0-for-8 with just two points and four rebounds in a loss to Northwestern, scored six of the team’s first 13 points while also gobbling up seven rebounds in the opening frame.
Penn State’s leading scorer D.J. Newbill, scoring 21.9 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting, went 1-for-7 in the first half, unable to get his usually reliable jump shot to fall. Even when Newbill made a nifty move to get to the rim, the senior guard couldn’t finish, missing an uncharacteristic two layups in the opening 20 minutes.
While Newbill was struggling, so too were Penn State’s secondary scoring threats. Shep Garner, shooting an efficient 44.3 pervent overall, including an impressive 38.5 percent from three, missed his first three attempts from beyond the arc. The true freshman point guard also turned the ball over twice in the opening half, contributing to the team’s seven first half turnovers.
Penn State ended the first half shooting an abysmal 5-for-26 (including 1-for-12 from three), a 19.2 percentage rate even Josh Smith could laugh at, and could only muster 19 points heading into the break, trailing Rutgers by 11 points.
In the second half, Shep Garner opened up the scoring with a three-pointer, cutting the lead to eight, despite Penn State playing one of the worst twenty minutes of basketball you’ll ever see. Of course, following two defensive stops, Garner hoisted a 26-foot prayer from the midcourt logo that went begging just five seconds into the shot clock, an appropriate microcosm of the Nittany Lions’ frustrating tendency to rely on deep shots early in the possession.
The roles reversed in the second half, as Rutgers missed its first six shots while Brandon Taylor hit from downtown on Penn State’s fourth possession to pull within five with 17:37 remaining. Remarkably, Penn State was able to remain close most of the second half, and a patented D.J. Newbill slice-and-score followed by a Garner steal and John Johnson free throw cut the lead to one with 2:17 to play.
Newbill scored on another driving layup to pull Penn State within one again at 47-46 with 29.2 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Penn State elected to foul 84.3 percent free throw shooter Myles Mack, and the senior guard hit both shots to put Rutgers back up by three. Rather than trying for a quick two, Newbill chucked a contested three-pointer that nearly went in to give Penn State an improbable late comeback, but it rimmed out. Kadeem Jack would grab the rebound and make 1-0f-2 fouls shots on the other end to ice the game.
Player of the Game
Kadeem Jack. Following a terrible performance in the Big Ten opener, the junior forward bounced back with a big game against the Nittany Lions, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds, including a team-high two assists. Though he cooled off a bit in the second half to finish 5-for-13, Jack’s offensive muscle and strong rebounding on both ends of the floor proved to be the difference in an otherwise sloppy game.
Tweet of the Game
The dearly beloved mascot of Penn State basketball makes a triumphant return, moving with unprecedented speed as it races back into your heart like warm memories of a blissful summer day. And yes, we do feel terrible for giving ourselves the Tweet of the Game. But there really aren’t any winners on the Penn State side, so consider this to be the collective misery of Penn State basketball fans in the form of a fiery motor vehicle.
— Onward Sports (@OnwardStSports) January 4, 2015
Following an impressive start to the season, including a Big Ten-leading 10-game winning streak (albeit against soft competition), excitement was building around the program, and rightfully so. Though Penn State still ranked poorly in KenPom and had only one quality win on record (George Washington), Pat Chambers’ squad was finally putting away the close games it so often lost last season.
While the loss stings and seems to take the wind out of the sails of the S.S. NCAA Tournament Bubble, the season is still young, and Penn State will have plenty of chances to earn the respect of the selection committee come March. While a win over Rutgers would certainly have made the road to March Madness easier, Penn State has proven it’s capable of upsetting a handful of good teams (hi, Ohio State) each season.
Penn State can ill afford another setback like this one, meaning it must find a way to beat teams like Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, and (gasp) Michigan State if it wants to win at least eight or nine of the next 16 conference games for a shot at making the tournament.
Penn State returns to action on Tuesday, taking on Michigan in the Bryce Jordan Center for the team’s home conference opener. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.