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No. 20 Penn State Hoops Drops Heartbreaker To No. 16 Michigan State 79-71 On Senior Night

No. 20 Penn State men’s basketball (21-9, 11-8 Big Ten) wasn’t able to enjoy its senior night thanks to a merciless No. 16 Michigan State (21-9, 13-6 Big Ten).

An incredible first half that saw Penn State shoot 58% from deep was followed by an exhausting comeback by the Spartans, as devilishly crafty coaching by Tom Izzo took advantage of a tired Nittany Lions sqaud.

How It Happened

There really couldn’t have been a better way to start Senior Night off than with a lob to Mike Watkins and Myreon Jones made sure it happened with an expertly delivered pass. An incredible first stop on defense led to a huge three from Jamari Wheeler and Penn State was suddenly up 5-0.

The Spartans answered with a classic Tom Izzo play to set up an open look down low. But another lob to Watkins and a three from Seth Lundy right in the defender’s face built that Nittany Lion up to 10-2. But the manic pace of the game would suddenly start to swing in Michigan State’s favor as two straight buckets shifted the momentum and shrunk that lead to four points.

A five minute Penn State stretch with no field goals gave the Spartans plenty of chances to come back, but stingy defense helped keep the Nittany Lions in front. But Penn State came back quick.

Myles Dread would finally break that run with a huge three and Izaiah Brockington answered a Cassius Winston layup with a drive of his own. Two straight threes from Myreon Jones later and Penn State’s lead went from being in danger to a comfortable 25-13 with 10:23 to go in the first half.

The Spartans would answer back with some slick shooting of their own, but the Nittany Lions would keep rolling. Lamar Stevens was 0-7, but the rest of the team was cooking. Penn State was shooting a ridiculously ~nice~ 69% from three and Michigan State couldn’t do anything about it. Stevens was still able to get involved, staying active on the boards and making huge plays on defense.

The Nittany Lions kept pushing through the rest of the half, with gritty defense and opportunistic offense keeping them well ahead of the Spartans. They’d flirt with a twenty point lead, but Michigan State cut it to 13 by the finals seconds of the half. Penn State wouldn’t be outdone however, with an oop to Watkins falling just a few tenths of a second from counting.

It still gave the team energy into halftime and the crowd showered the squad with a standing ovation as Penn State entered the locker room up 46-31.

Sparty came out of the gate hungry to break that deficit down, with some big buckets bringing things to within eight. Going 0-4 from deep after a scorching hot first half wasn’t helping the Nittany Lions’ case either. Stevens continued to look lost on offense, going 0-10 with a near airball coming on a free throw.

Michigan State continued pressing, tying things at 49 thanks to an Aaron Henry three with 14:53 to go in the game. An easy lay-in on their next possession gave the Spartans their first lead of the game as they continued an 11-1 run.

The poor shooting would continue from Penn State. 0-9 from three and 1-13 from the field over the second half was definitely not making the Nittany Lions good in front of ESPN. Michigan State got up 55-49 over that stretch. Stevens finally getting his first field goal and a slam from Watkins helped keep pace, but Penn State still found themselves down 57-53 with 11:31 to go in the game.

Down ten after another rough stretch, the Nittany Lions began to claw themselves out of the deep hole they’d dug themselves. A Stevens slam led to a made and-1, followed up by a free throw line jumper made it a 65-62 Spartan lead.

Things were getting mad just in time for March. Both teams were going hard, with emotions clearly being displayed on both sides. With Stevens’ continued inconsistency, other players stepped up. Harrar worked magic on the inside, getting four crucial points off two crucial offensive boards and guys like Lundy kept the pressure up on defense.

Down just three with 3:09 to go, it was do or die time for Penn State. Stevens would go 1-2 on a pair of free throws and Michigan State would get some layups in, pushing its lead up a point. A 2-2 showing at the line for Stevens kept the Lions in it, but a controversial out of bounds call cost Penn State a shot and a Winston and-1 was completed to give the Spartans a 77-70 lead with 35.6 seconds left.

That was a lead Michigan State wouldn’t let go of, as they took the last few seconds in a death grip, cruising their way to a 79-71 win after another 1-2 trip to the line from Stevens.

Takeaways

  • It was, excuse the cliche, a tale of two halves. Penn State was insane from deep in the first half, going 59% compared to a woeful 1-9 mark for the Spartans. Suffocating defense and just one turnover were good signs, but the team collapsed on almost every front. An 0-11 showing from three was damning, but loose interior defense and anemic offensive movement destroyed the first half momentum.
  • It was his big night, but Stevens had a rough go of things. An 0-9 showing in the first half was mitigated by the crazy three-point shooting, but things didn’t get much better. He’d go 3-19 in total and 9-14 from the charity stripe, unable to put on any sort of late game heroics thanks to the bloodthirsty Spartan defense.
  • Penn State’s turnovers situation wasn’t bad despite the messy second half. Just four of them coupled with 14 assists were proof of the Nittany Lions superb ball security and movement, but it wasn’t enough for the win. If Chambers is looking for positives though, this is it.
  • Michigan State remained ineffective from three for the entire game thanks to solid perimeter defense from Penn State, but the low post was a different story. Forward Xavier Tillman torched the Nittany Lions for 23 points and 15 rebounds and the lane was nearly almost open for strong Spartan takes to the hoop.

What’s Next

The Nittany Lions will wrap up their regular season on the road against Northwestern on Saturday. Tipoff will be a 4 p.m. and you can catch the action on BTN.

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Matt is a junior majoring in Secondary Education and minoring in Philosophy. He's a Philly sports fan, which causes him existential dread on the daily coupled with a deep distaste for the current state of Star Wars. Send him death threats at [email protected] and follow @m_paolizzi on Twitter for a near constant supply of second-hand embarrassment.

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