NEW YORK — During a timeout in the first half of Penn State’s “home” game with Michigan at Madison Square Garden Saturday, a PSU student took part in a foul-shooting contest.
The kid calmly stepped to the line and swished 5 of 7 shots (at $25 per make) within the allotted 30-second window. Then, with a chance to double his money, he hit nothing but net on a 3-pointer.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, he was the only one in blue and white who managed to find his shooting touch early. The actual Penn State players struggled from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, and eventually dropped a 79-72 decision to the Wolverines to fall to 11-11 on the season and 2-7 in the B1G.
Michigan improved to 17-5 and 7-2 with its second win over the Nittany Lions this month. PSU got 24 points from Brandon Taylor, 22 from Shep Garner and 11 from Payton Banks, but most of it was too little, too late.
“Inconsistencies (and) guys making mistakes,” PSU coach Pat Chambers said when asked if he could put his finger on why his team seemed to be getting behind early in games. “… Just inconsistencies in our effort and sometimes our shot selection.”
Penn State has now lost three in a row and they all have followed a similar pattern. The Lions struggled early in the game, fell behind and just did not have the firepower to dig all the way out.
PSU made only 8 of 25 first-half shots (and 3 of 12 3-pointers). The Nittany Lions’ big man rotation of starter Julian Moore, Jordan Dickerson and Donovan Jack combined for one point in the opening 20 minutes. The lack of any interior threat other than Taylor allowed the Wolverines to focus in on stopping the PSU shooters.
On the other end of the floor, Michigan was 13 of 27 from the floor in the first half, and a late trey by Zak Irvin gave him 11 points for the half and his team a 38-26 lead at intermission. The Lions were pretty good in half-court defense, but gave up eight points on fast breaks.
“The fast breaks killed us,” Chambers said.
After being smoked by 23 in Ann Arbor earlier in the month, Penn State appeared to be in over its head again — especially when the lead expanded to 17 (60-43) midway through the second half.
But then Garner began bombing in triples and Taylor began doing his thing in the lane. The Lions also picked it up defensively.
Rookie Davis Zemgulis’ 3-pointer with 4:48 showing capped a 15-4 run and State was within 64-59. But by that point, there was no margin for error.
So when Wolverine Duncan Robinson scored on a layup and teammate Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman followed with a bucket inside, the run was over. Michigan took care of business at the free throw line and defensively the rest of the way, holding PSU at arm’s length while escaping with the victory.
HOBBLED GARNER GETS HOT
Though playing with a bad ankle, Garner shook off a tough first half (1 of 5 from the arc) to make 4 of 7 second-half triples and lead the comeback. A couple of them were from beyond the NBA line at MSG.
“I wasn’t sure we were gonna have him,” Chambers said of Garner, who injured the ankle in a loss at Ohio State earlier in the week. “I was proud of him that he was gonna show his teammates he was gonna grit it out.”
B1G SUPER SATURDAY
The game was part of the Big Ten’s hoops and hockey doubleheader at MSG. There was a solid turnout for the basketball game, as official attendance was listed at 12,108.
Though it counted as a home game for Penn State (complete with PSU brand recognition throughout the day), the fans seemed to be split fairly evenly.
The Michigan fans were definitely louder, but that was probably because they had a lot more for which to cheer.
Things get no easier for the Lions, as they travel to No. 3 Iowa Wednesday. The game tips at 6:30 p.m. and can be seen on BTN.