Penn State began Big Ten play this year riding a 10-game winning streak and sporting a 12-1 record. But questions remained about the strength of the Nittany Lions' non-conference schedule.
They had a chance to prove the skeptics wrong in the league opener, at No. 4 Wisconsin Wednesday afternoon.
As tests go, this one didn't go so well for Pat Chambers' squad. The Nittany Lions were sizzling from the field in the first half, yet still trailed by 43-36 at the break.
When their shooting cooled of, they didn't stand a chance, as the Badgers (13-1, 1-0) led by as many as 20 in the final 20 minutes before cruising to the 89-72 victory. This despite a 29-point effort by PSU guard D.J. Newbill.
Penn State (12-2, 0-1) actually played well early, and led 30-27 when Geno Thorpe hit a 3-pointer with 6:04 left in the first half. At that point, Newbill, the Big Ten's leading scorer, already had 15 points.
Wisconsin closed the half with a 16-6 run, and then carried the offensive and defensive momentum into the second half. The Lions scored only one bucket in the first four-plus minutes of the final period in falling behind 54-38 before Newbill scored his first basket of the half with 15:43 remaining (it was a conventional three-point play).
But a few minutes later, Penn State had a another dry spell where it did not make a basket for three minutes, and the Badgers pulled away for good.
Newbill led the Lions with 29, while fellow guards Shep Garner and Thorpe (off the bench) had 11 each. But PSU's starting frontcourt of Jordan Dickerson (two points), Brandon Taylor (two) and Ross Travis (four) all struggled to score.
Wisconsin's powerful frontcourt ravaged Penn State's soft interior defense, led by center Frank Kaminsky's 18 points and 14 rebounds. Forwards Nigel Hayes (21 points) and Sam Dekker (17).
The Lions are back on the road Saturday, when they take on B1G newcomer Rutgers in a 7:30 p.m. tip on ESPN2. The Scarlet Knight lost their conference opener at home to Northwestern Tuesday (51-47) and are 8-6 on the season.