Penn State entered Sunday’s game at No. 6 Michigan State as a 17.5-point underdog, having won exactly one of 21 games it had played in East Lansing through the years.
In the previous meeting between the two teams — at the Jordan Center Jan. 10 — the Spartans routed the Nittany Lions 92-65 even though star guard Denzel Valentine was just returning from a knee injury.
So to say Tom Izzo’s team was a bad matchup for Pat Chambers’ club would be an understatement.
Which led to Chambers making a statement — in his own way.
With the Lions already trailing 35-18 heading toward the end of the first half, PSU leading scorer and rebounder Brandon Taylor was called for an offensive foul. This despite the fact that — even according to the BTN crew calling the game — Taylor actually appeared to be hit from behind by MSU forward Deyonta Davis.
Chambers … uh … vehemently argued the call. He was hit with a technical foul. Then he vehemently argued some more, and received a second technical that resulted in an automatic ejection.
Penn State, which entered the afternoon riding a three-game winning streak, went on to be blown out, 88-57. The Lions slipped to 15-14 overall and 6-10 in the Big Ten.
So what does any of that have to do with Chambers making a statement?
Well, at the time he was hit with the double T, he surely realized there was little to no chance of his team coming back against an outfit as good as the Spartans. When PSU beat ranked squads earlier this year — Indiana and Iowa, both at home — it never tailed by double figures. The Lions simply don’t have the offensive weapons to overcome big deficits.
Not that he’ll ever admit it, but Chambers took the opportunity of the tough call on Taylor to send a message to the officials — which he seems to do in some form about once a year. More importantly, he sent a message to his team — that from here on out it is us against them.
And “them,” in the near future, at least, means Northwestern (Thursday) and Illinois (next Sunday), the two teams that visit the Jordan Center to close the regular season.
The Lions will be favored in both games. If they win both, finishing in at least 10th place in the B1G standings and earning a first-day bye to the conference tourney is a lock. Even winning one of two can get them there.
And the silver lining of PSU being crushed in a game it was likely to lose anyway is that when he took over head-coaching duties, assistant Keith Urgo substituted often. That, coupled with the fact that Taylor, Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack all fouled out, led to only guard Shep Garner playing more than 28 minutes (he logged 32).
So, technically speaking, what Chambers did will probably end up being a good thing for the Lions.
• Taylor tied a season low for points (two) and played only 19 minutes.
• As noted, the Lions had three players foul out Sunday. They had nine DQs as a team on the season going into the game.
• Taylor, Dickerson, Jack and center Julian Moore combined to commit 18 of PSU’s 20 personal fouls.
• Garner led the Lions with 22 points. Payton Banks (12) and Devin Foster (11) were also in doubles.
• Valentine had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists to pace MSU (24-5, 11-6).
• PSU was outrebounded 51-33.