Penn State Men’s Basketball Falls To Pitt 81-73 In Never Forget Tribute Classic

Penn State traveled east Saturday to take on the Pitt Panthers in the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. Penn State (6-5) is coming into this game looking to bounce back from its recent loss against George Mason, while Pitt (8-2) is coming off a close five point win against Buffalo. Pitt jumped out to an early and held on to the lead the rest of the way, despite a late Penn State push, winning the game 81-73.

How It Happened

Josh Reaves returned to the starting lineup for the first time this season, after missing the first five games of the year due to a left knee injury. Shep Garner knocked down a three on the first possession of the game, but that was the last lead Penn State would see.

After Garner’s trey, Pitt went on 17-3 run and never looked back. The Nittany Lions did themselves no favors by constantly settling for jump shots, which isn’t ideal for a team that has struggled to shoot from the outside this year.

Both teams ran a 1-2-2 three-quarter-court press and dropped into a 2-3 zone on defense in the first half. The big difference in the half was that Pitt attacked the basket against Penn State’s zone, and crashed the offensive glass. Pitt outscored Penn State in points in the paint 16-6 in the first half and out rebounded the Nittany Lions 26-13.

Penn State made some adjustments to start the second half as it switched to man-to-man defense, and started to attack the basket. A Mike Watkins And-1 cut Pitt’s lead to 14 with a little over 11 minutes remaining, but Penn State went back to the 1-2-2 full court pressure on defense and promptly gave up a layup.

The Nittany Lions really started to score effectively in the paint in the second half. Watkins got a few easy buckets inside, and really got going in the second half scoring 13 in the final frame. Penn State started to really gain some momentum after forcing some turnovers. Four free throws from Tony Carr and Payton Banks, respectively, cut Pitt’s lead down to seven with 4:58 to go, but Pitt’s Michael Young responded with a tough layup inside to go up 69-60 with 4:16 remaining.

Penn State kept battling, as they eventually cut its deficit to as low as five with 1:50 to go after buckets from Garner and Carr, but Sheldon Jeter hit a dagger three at the other end to seal the deal. The Nittany Lions outscored the Panthers 51-39 in the second half, which is a very encouraging sign, but the slow start doomed Penn State.

Mike Watkins had another solid outing, registering 17 points and 15 rebounds, with 13 of those points coming in the second half. The Big Ten leader in blocks per game also had another two blocks in this contest. Carr and Lamar Stevens struggled shooting today, as they combined for 5-24 from the floor, but they did score 11 from the charity stripe.

This game was really a tale of two halves as Penn State dominated in the second half in nearly every statistical category. Hopefully, the young Nittany Lions learn from this game that it needs to play a complete 40 minutes in order to be successful against tough opponents.

Player Of The Game

Michael Young | Senior | Forward

The senior for the Panthers lit up the stat sheet today against the Nittany Lions. The Duquesne native scored 29 points on 8-17 shooting while pulling down nine rebounds. 17 of his points came in the second half, which was a key factor in holding off Penn State’s late rally.

What’s Next

The Nittany Lions will look to get back on track next Sunday after two straight losses now. Penn State will travel to Madison Square Garden for its next game to take on St. John’s in the Hoops Holiday Festival. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m.

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About the Author

Dylan Coughlin

Dylan is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism at Penn State. Growing up near Philadelphia, he's a life-long Philly sports fan who #TrustsTheProcess and thinks the Sixers will run the league in five years. You can follow him on Twitter @DCoughlin25 for some okay content or e-mail [email protected].

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