But the Nittany Lions eventually returned to form, giving up a game-changing 16-6 run late in the opening period before going out with another whimper in the final 20 minutes.
In losing 90-64, Penn State fell to 7-22 overall and 1-15 in the conference, and extended its road losing streak in the league to four full seasons (32 games). The Lions are now 0-14 all time in East Lansing. They have also assured themselves -- barring a run to the Big Ten and then NCAA tournament championships -- of finishing with the most losses in a season (23) in school history.
Michigan State improved to 22-5 and 13-3 in a game that was essentially meaningless because it was already locked into the second seed for the conference tournament.
Penn State has gotten next to no offense from it points guards in the Big Ten, but sophomore Ben Luber caught fire early in this one and the Lions became a different team. With Luber getting loose for scores in transition and hitting a couple of long-range bombs, one of the Big Tens worst offenses was suddenly potent.
Lubers jumper at the 5:47 mark of the first half was his 12th point of the game and gave PSU a 30-23 lead. The Breslin Center crowd, jacked to start for Senior Day, was out of it.
I was proud of the way our guys played in the first half, Coach Ed DeChellis told the PSU Radio Network. We did a nice job and had the lead.
But the Spartans quickly worked themselves and the arena right back. Two of nine from deep at the time, they caught fire from the arc and began fast breaking themselves. The result was the 16-6 burst -- during which MSU was 4 of 4 from deep. As important was a full-court press that began forcing turnovers.
We got exhausted, Lion rookie guard Danny Morrissey said. We got sloppy with our offensive plays.
The Lions never recovered. After building the 30-23 lead, and missing a chance to boost it to 10 points when Morrissey was long on a triple, Penn State scored 16 points over the next 25 minutes. Luber, who conked heads with Maurice Ager while scrambling for a loose ball early in the second half, finished with 12 points and did not attempt a shot in the final 20 minutes.
Michigan State, meanwhile, finished 13-26 from the arc, which meant the Spartans hit 11 of their final 16 triples. Fittingly, seniors Alan Anderson and Chris Hill led the way, combining for 43 points and 9 of 14 treys.
Luber and freshman guard Mike Walker each had a dozen points to lead the Lions.
Penn State finishes in last place in the Big Ten for the fourth straight season. The Lions will face either Iowa or Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago at 5:05 p.m. Thursday. The game will be telecast by espn2.
The Buckeyes close the regular season vs. unbeaten and No. 1 Illinois in Columbus Sunday. If Ohio State wins, it will be PSUs opponent in the opening round of the tournament. If OSU loses, Penn State gets Iowa Thursday.