Penn State Has No Answer

Iowa hit Penn State with an early haymaker at the BJC Saturday. The struggling Lions failed to respond and were blown out again.

Say this much for Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis: He knows the game.

Prior to facing Iowa at the Jordan Center Saturday, DeChellis told his team (and the media) about two keys to stopping the Hawkeyes. The first was using strong transition defense to encumber Iowa's fastbreak. The second was keeping a hand in the respective faces of Hawk deadeyes Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska.

He couldn't have been more right. Because in pounding the Nittany Lions 78-56 on a forgettable PSU Senior Day, Iowa churned out 22 points on breaks, 16 of them when the game was decided in the first half. Horner and Haluska, meanwhile, got open looks at will, combining to make 17 of 29 shots (6 of 12 3-pointers) for 41 points.

“We identified what we needed to do…” DeChellis said. “We talked about that for a couple days, and we couldn't get it done. … We really didn't execute the things that we talked about [that] we needed to execute, and that's the most disappointing thing to me.”

DeChellis went on to utter the now-familiar refrain that he had “no answers” for his club's lethargy. The players didn't have any answers, either, because for the first time since a home loss to Lehigh in 1986 the coaching staff barred them from talking to reporters after a game.

Which was just as well. At 7-20 overall and 1-13 in the Big Ten … and while now riding a nine-game losing streak … and with last place in the conference all locked up … and after laying an egg on Senior Day, the Nittany Lions obviously have no idea what's happening.

It looked like they might be on to something early, as freshman Geary Claxton drove the lane and kicked to senior forward Jason McDougald for a power dunk to open the scoring. But that was the end of the highlight tape for Penn State. Trudging through every offensive set, the Lions managed one field goal over the next eight minutes.

PSU's woes were almost comical in the first half. Down 5-2, point guard Ben Luber pump-faked to get a Hawkeye defender in the air. Sensing he was about to draw contact, Luber heaved up an over-the-shoulder 15-footer. But the contact never came. The ball bounced hard off the board, and Haluska raced to a layup at the other end.

A few possessions later, McDougald caught the ball 12 feet from the hole and went up for another dunk. A microsecond later, he realized he was not going to get anywhere close to the rim. The ball again careened off the board, and Haluska was again off and flyiing. He finished with a dunk that made it 9-3.

His uncontested triple at 8:39 of the first half made it 26-11. Horner followed with an open 3-pointer of his own less than a minute later and the beating was on. The lead reached 27 (47-20) on Horner's uncontested layup out of a set offense just before the horn sounded to end the half.

Iowa shot 64.5 percent from the floor and 62.5 percent from the arc in the first 20 minutes.

“Our first half was horrendous,” DeChellis said. “I apologized to the seniors because that's not the way we should have senior night.”

DeChellis admitted he has been reluctant to be too critical of his young team, for fear of completely smashing its collective confidence. But he laid into the Nittany Lions at halftime, and to some extent it worked. The Hawkeyes made only 40 percent of their shots and 28.6 percent of their triples in the final period.

“The second half, we played with a little energy and a little emotion,” DeChellis said. “But it's easy to play [well] when you are behind like that.”

Which, unfortunately for the Lions, is where they find themselves so often lately. DeChellis gave half-hearted attempts to blame the struggles on his own inability to get across messages and on the weary legs of the team, which - due to injury - has been reduced to eight functional players.

But one got the sense even he wasn't buying those arguments. Not after Penn State was smoked by an Iowa team (17-10, 5-9) that lost five of six coming in and was playing without its best player, suspended guard Pierre Pierce.

“You've got to play this game with some energy and emotion,” DeChellis said. “We didn't have energy and emotion in the first half. We were flat. We played harder in practice than we did in the game, which is not a good sign.

“At the end of the day,” he concluded, “guys have to step up and do it.”

SHORT SHOTS

ACTION CLAXTON: Claxton was once again among the few bright spots for Penn State. The rookie made 6 of 10 shots for 15 points and had five rebounds.

SENIOR MOMENTS: McDougald went 3 of 4 from the floor for seven points. Fellow senior Kevin Fellows hit his only shot, a baseline jumper.

ED SAID: “They haven't responded to being jumped on. When you jump on them, they seem to go deeper.” - On why he hasn't been overly vocal in criticizing his players.

QUOTABLE: “You've just got to be patient and work through things.” - Iowa coach Steve Alford, on the struggles of the young Nittany Lions.

KEY STAT: Penn State committed just 14 fouls in the game, a testament to how soft it is even while being blown out on its home floor. This after committing nine while being embarrassed by Illinois at the BJC Feb. 16. What in the name of Carl Jackson is going on here?

PERSONNEL: Claxton is the only Lion who would be seeing meaningful playing time on any of the competitive teams in the Big Ten. His minutes Saturday (36) reflected his importance to the club. No one else logged more than 28.

NEXT UP: Penn State plays host to Minnesota Wednesday. The game, the Lions' final home contest of the year, tips at 8 p.m. At 9-6 in the Big Ten, the Golden Gophers are fighting for an NCAA tournament bid.

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