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Offensive Inconsistencies Haunt Penn State Hoops Amid Two-Game Skid

When Penn State men’s basketball took the floor for Tuesday night’s highly anticipated matchup with Michigan, the squad’s backcourt made an effort to avenge its dire 13-point first half in its latest effort against Wisconsin.

Initially, the Nittany Lions proved that their previous 1-for-20 shooting start from the field in Madison served as a distant memory. Led by the combination of Jalen Pickett and Sam Sessoms, Penn State began the contest at a scorching hot 14-for-20 clip, good for an absurd 70% conversion rate.

The run catapulted Micah Shrewsberry’s group to a commanding 34-23 first-half lead, resulting in its most efficient 15 minutes of play of the campaign under the first-year head coach’s lead.

With Pickett and Sessoms carrying the load with eight points each in the early going, the overmatched Wolverines initially looked as though their trip to Happy Valley would conclude in the form of a double-digit blunder.

“I felt like we got good shots,” Shrewsberry said. “We were attacking the rim and getting all the way to the rim and getting shots right there.”

However, through the next 9:44 spanning between the two halves, Michigan stormed back with a 15-0 run to capture a 38-34 advantage. During the stretch, the Nittany Lions’ previous lights-out shooting completely collapsed, as Shrewsberry’s crew sported an 0-for-12 shooting mark through the empty window.

“[Michigan] played more zone, and they did a good job of mixing in man-to-zone in the same possession, so it kind of kept us off guard and kind of slowed us down,” Shrewsberry said. “We tried to do more attacking, kind of in our man [offense]. We tried a couple of different ways to attack it, and the shots that we got were a little bit different.”

While the backcourt tandem of Pickett and Sessoms played integral roles in mounting the game-high 11-point lead toward the conclusion of the first half, the two guards struggled mightily within the alarming scoring drought.

The two seniors proved Tuesday’s matchup truly played out as a game of runs, with Pickett going 0-for-5 and Sessoms coming up empty with an 0-for-3 conversion rate with crunch time approaching.

Although the difficulties could be attributed to the Wolverine’s pressing defensive adjustments, Sessoms believes he and his teammates are more to blame for falling short of the potential upset bid.

“I wouldn’t say it was more so [Michigan], or anything they did,” Sessoms said. “It just came back to us making shots [and] making the right plays. I told a couple of guys after the game [that] we have to make the shots. [Pickett] missed a couple of shots [he normally] makes, and [Pickett and I] both missed a ton of shots we usually make. We’re just missing open threes, and they were open. So, I wouldn’t really say it was as much of them, it’s just some days, you have that type of night. And, it was just unfortunate that it was a couple of us [having a bad night].”

Through the Nittany Lions’ last four halves, dating back to the battle with Wisconsin less than a week ago, the team has donned shooting percentages of 16.6% during the first half in Madison, and 25% throughout the second half against Michigan, respectively.

Conversely, throughout the two other halves, Penn State has proven it can score at an equivalent rate to even the most competitive Big Ten squads. During the second half in the Kohl Center, the Nittany Lions torched the Badgers with 51.9% shooting from the floor — a stark contrast to the team’s historically unbearable start.

Moreover, despite a swift fall from grace towards the end of the first half at the hands of Michigan, Penn State finished the opening period with a 57.7% conversion rate with 15 made field goals, proving the squad has enough shooting prowess to ultimately seek consistent success.

“I think we beat ourselves, basically,” Pickett said. “I mean, we were struggling at one point turning the ball over a lot this season. Now, we’re getting it down in the single digits where we want to be. We’re just missing a lot of shots. We guard fine, we just have to keep getting in the gym and keep working.”

For Micah Shrewsberry, the two-game losing streak could not have come at a worse time. With a 9-11 record, including a 4-8 label in conference play, the hopes of a backdoor NCAA Tournament bid seemingly become more distant with every additional loss.

But, for the Indiana native’s first-year group, the proposition of falling victim to two perennial Big Ten powers by one point each in as many games shouldn’t put the head coach in panic mode.

Less than three months ago, Shrewsberry’s team seemed destined for mediocrity following an 81-56 demolition enacted by UMass, a program that currently sits second-to-last in the Atlantic 10 standings.

If the Nittany Lions are able to string together consistent displays of steady shooting, one-point losses could soon be products of the past. With eight conference matchups left, including two marquee dates with ranked opponents, Shrewsberry still has almost a third of the season to put his ideal version of Penn State basketball on the court.

“One thing is, we have to be better,” Shrewsberry said. “We still have opportunities, and we have to capitalize on those opportunities. I need to be better for our guys to give us better shots down the stretch and do what we need to do to get the win.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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