Lions Hit Another Low Point

Penn State's difficult season hit another low point in Evanston Saturday, literally and figuratively. <P>In falling to Northwestern 54-39, the Nittany Lions posted their lowest point total in more than a year. It marked the first time in the 2004-05 campaign a Big Ten team managed fewer than 40 points.

“The frustration continues for us,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis said on his post-game radio show.

Does it ever. Now 7-18 overall and 1-11 in the Big Ten, Penn State has slipped solidly into playing-out-the-string mode.

Against the same Wildcat outfit it beat 65-62 at the Jordan Center Jan. 22 -- a game in which State outrebounded NU 42-17 -- Penn State was completely whipped this time around.

How bad was it? PSU was outrebounded 30-27 by a team that ranks a distant last in the conference in rebounding margin. The Nittany Lions also had nearly twice as many turnovers (22) as field goals (12).

Rookie Geary Claxton had 12 points, but offset that with seven turnovers. Likewise, PSU forward Travis Parker had 10 points and five turnovers. And they were the guys who played reasonably well.

DeChellis benched his starting frontcourt of Parker and Aaron Johnson in favor of seniors Jason McDougald and Kevin Fellows. It didn't help. The new starters managed zero points and five rebounds in a combined 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, Parker kept throwing the ball away once he came off the bench. And Johnson was a non-factor when he hit the floor, making 3 of 5 shots and again struggling on defense.

Starting point guard Ben Luber had another rough game, as well, making only 1 of 5 shots (he is now 22 of 78 in the Big Ten) to go along with three turnovers. He had one assist and did not attempt a free throw in 35 minutes.

“There isn't any easy answer,” DeChellis said. “The frustration will continue until we as individuals and a group do what we need to do to pull ourselves out of this and play a good basketball game.”

The Lions fell behind by double digits late in the first half, climbed within 25-18 at the break, then came unglued early in the second half.

NU Big man Vince Scott was left unguarded on three different occasions in the first five minutes of the half, and responded with a pair of 3-pointers and a deuce to fuel the 14-4 run that ended it.

Scott began the afternoon averaging 3.1 ppg on the season. He scored a career-high 14 in the previous meeting between the two teams, so it was not as if the Lions didn't know he could shoot. Nevertheless, he tied Mohamed Hachad for game-scoring honors with 13.

Though the Wildcats will likely need a Big Ten tournament title to make it to the NCAA tourney, they are now 13-12 overall (5-7 league) and have a good chance to make the NIT.

For Penn State, meanwhile, the end of the season can't get here soon enough.

“We have better players than [the way] they are playing,” DeChellis said.

One of these days they may get around to proving it.

NEXT UP: Penn State is at Michigan Wednesday for an 8 p.m. tip.

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