Penn State Hoops Blows 21-Point Lead, Falls 74-72 To Ole Miss In NIT Season Tip-Off
Penn State men’s basketball (5-1) choked a chance to get off to its best start in 20 years, losing a 21-point lead in a 74-72 loss to Ole Miss (5-1) in the NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinals at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night. Six three-pointers and just one turnover in the second half by Ole Miss sprung the massive comeback after the Nittany Lions had forced 14 Rebels turnovers in the opening half.
Mike Watkins led the way for Penn State by stuffing the stat sheet with an eye-popping 18 points, 12 rebounds, eight blocks, and four steals. Lamar Stevens added 22 points of his own as Penn State led for more than 37 minutes in the loss to the Rebels.
The Rebels’ Bryce Williams hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left and sealed Penn State’s fate by giving Ole Miss its first lead of the game. Myles Dread couldn’t find the basket on a corner three-point attempt in the final seconds as the Nittany Lions fell to 5-1 on the season.
How It Happened
Watkins scored the first six points of the night for the Nittany Lions, highlighted by two dunks, as Penn State led 8-4 by the first media timeout. That’s when Pat Chambers’s team heated up, reeling off a 14-4 run over the next six minutes. Myreon Jones scored seven points during the stretch and held the Rebels to 2-for-10 from the field while forcing six turnovers.
The two teams traded buckets over the next few minutes before Ole Miss was forced to call its third timeout in the first 13 minutes of the game after another triple by Jones put Penn State ahead 29-14.
By the end of the first half, the beatdown was in full swing as the Nittany Lions led 43-27 at the break. Penn State held Ole Miss to 40% from the field, forced 14 turnovers by the Rebels, and blocked six shots, all while shooting 53% from the field themselves. Watkins entered halftime with 14 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, and four steals in one of the strongest first-half performances of his Penn State career. Jones had also tallied 10 points, while Jamari Wheeler added eight on a perfect 3-for-3 mark from the field.
The second half saw Lamar Stevens wake up, as he scored seven points in a row for Penn State to give them a 52-33 lead with 15 minutes left to play. Jones had a highlight-reel slam a few minutes later, and the rout seemed to be on. However, four unanswered Ole Miss three-pointers brought the deficit down to just seven points, 57-50, forcing a Penn State timeout with 9:16 remaining.
Stevens answered with a triple of his own to push the advantage back to 10, and back to back finishes in the paint by Izaiah Brockington and Watkins gave Penn State a crucial 7-0 spurt to lead 64-50 with seven minutes left to go. Ole Miss continued its red-hot shooting, however, and another 9-0 run forced a Penn State timeout with 4:08 remaining, with the score tightened up at 66-61.
Sloppy play by the Nittany Lions allowed the Rebels to keep inching closer, but Brockington came up big for Penn State. A 63% free-throw shooter coming in, Brockington made two big free throws to give the Nittany Lions a 70-65 lead with less than three minutes remaining. It wasn’t enough to maintain the lead, as an and-1 by Breein Tyree tied the game at 70 with a minute left.
Stevens and Tyree traded buckets, and Penn State had the ball for the last possession, calling a timeout with the score tied at 72 as 18.2 seconds remained. KJ Buffen of Ole Miss stole the ball on the inbounds pass by Brockington but missed the layup at the other end. Williams got the offensive rebound before he was fouled by Jones, sending the Rebels to the line for a chance to take their first lead of the night.
Williams then drilled both free throws and Dread air-balled a three-pointer with three seconds left to put the finishing touch on one of the worst collapses in recent memory by Penn State.
- This Penn State team is for real. This is the second decent-to-good program that the Nittany Lions have blown the doors off of in the opening minutes this year. But the team definitely struggles when it can’t get a great night from it’s supporting cast. The group of Dread-Lundy-Jones Jr.-Brockington went 3-for-16 with five turnovers in the game, struggling mightily in the second half.
- With that being said, Penn State doesn’t need Lamar Stevens to score 20-plus every single night. The depth of this roster has been mentioned plenty of times so far, but the emergence of several consistent scoring options is what has truly made Penn State a more well-rounded, complete team. Stevens struggled in the first half (2-for-7, two turnovers, two fouls) and it had little to no effect on the team’s early success. That’s a massive development that can’t be understated. When Stevens took over in the second half, finishing with 22 points, the supporting cast just so happened to go completely cold, which was extremely unfortunate timing for the team. A more consistent finish similar to how they played in the first half would’ve led to a victory for Penn State.
- This has to be taken as a wakeup call. A few games that went the wrong way last year early in the season led to that horrible month of January in which the team failed to win a game. The Nittany Lions will get other chances very soon against a quality opponent on Friday and a game with Wake Forest next week, so they can’t afford to do anything but bounce back quickly and take this awful second-half showing as a learning moment.
Penn State will take on the loser of Syracuse and Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 29 at the Barclays Center. You can watch that game on ESPN 2.
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