If at the beginning of the season an IU fan had to look at the schedule and pick two games that were gimmies on the road, they would have almost definitely selected Northwestern and Penn State. But this has not been any ordinary season for the Hoosiers. Another lackluster second half performance, coupled with 25 points from Penn State big man Jan Jagla doomed IU to a 74-66 loss at the hands of the Big Ten's worst team. Bracey Wright had 21 points to lead the Hoosiers as they dropped to 8-8 in conference play and 17-11 overall. More importantly, IU seriously hurt their seeding for the NCAA tournament and will have to win a few games in the upcoming Big Ten tournament to make up for this lost opportunity. The loss also means that the Hoosiers finish the season with only two true road wins at Ball State and at Iowa. Usually a good road record equates into readiness for the Big Dance. This IU team lacks the consistency and grit of a serious NCAA tournament team.
IU trailed early on as a 13-0 run put them in a 18-8 deficit. But with the help of Marshall Strickland's twelve first half points and Wright's penetration to create shots for himself and others, the Hoosiers took a 35-32 half time lead, holding Penn State to 34% from the field while shooting 52%. Surprisingly, Sean Kline and Mike Roberts picked up the slack for Jeff Newton, who played only 10 minutes of the first half because of foul trouble. A.J. Moye also held his own on the glass against much taller, physical players as George Leach once again struggled to find his game.
The second half was a different story. IU had been outscored in the past 8 of 11 games in the second half coming into tonight's contest, and the trend continued with Penn State outhustling the Hoosiers 42-31. Jagla was dominant from all over the court, scoring from inside and out as the Nittany Lions took the lead early on in the half for good. Contributing to IU's second half misery was only 2 field goals through the first 7 minutes. Newton picked up his third and fourth fouls early in the half, and without him in the lineup, the offense seemed stagnant. The Hoosiers seemed to be waiting for something to happen. Usually Newton, who only scored 9 points on six shot attempts, is the main offensive option, but he was saddled with four fouls most of the second half which caused confusion and dry spells among the players on offenese.
IU seemed content for long, contested shots instead of working the ball around to try to open things up a little. It also caused Kline and Roberts to play significant minutes in the game, and the much more experienced Jagla and Aaron Johnson seemed to take over the paint late in the game. The sharp shooting of Sharif Chambliss, who scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, did not make an IU comeback easy. The Hoosiers did cut it to 70-66 with less than a minute to play, but key free throws by the Nittany Lions sealed the deal as they picked up their second Big Ten victory of the year.
The loss for the Hoosiers erases the momentum of the past few games. Also, it exposed the problems that this team has. IU has not been able to play effectively when Newton is in foul trouble. The offense becomes lackluster without its biggest gun in the lineup and shows no signs of rhythm. Wright then shoulders the weight and sometimes forces shots that creates fast break opportunities for opponents. Also, Tom Coverdale only had 5 points and no made field goals. This team will go as he goes. Five shot attempts is not enough for a shooter to get into sync. This Hoosier team now must rebound and perform with high intensity and focus on Thursday in Chicago to show the tournament committee that they are worthy of being in the field of 64.
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