It's All Over; Hoop Team Falls

CHICAGO -- Penn State did its part to contribute to March Madness at the United Center here Thursday. In a Big Ten tournament first-round game, the 11th-seeded Nittany Lions built a shocking 15-point second-half lead before driving themselves, their coach and their fans mad by blowing it.

“That's the story of our season,” junior forward Aaron Johnson said in a quiet locker room following the 72-69 defeat. PSU's 23rd loss (against seven wins) sets a dubious school record in that department.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, improved to 20-11 with the win in a tournament that is their postseason. OSU has self-sanctioned itself from the NCAA and NIT for rules violations under former coach Jim O'Brien.

Fresh of a stunning victory over previously unbeaten and No. 1 Illinois, Ohio State was considered the one lower seed capable of doing damage in the Big Ten tourney. But the Buckeyes came out colder than the blustery snow squalls that settled in over the city earlier in the day.

They made only 2 of 11 shots in falling behind 16-5. Penn State, meanwhile, hit seven of its first nine, with junior forward Travis Parker and Johnson uncharacteristically scoring at will in the paint.

“I tried to play more aggressive,” Parker said. “It might have been our last game. Why not come out and let it all go?”

Indeed, the Nittany Lions, losers of 11 straight going in, played free and loose in the first half. When OSU cut it to 22-17, Penn State calmly countered, with rookie forward Geary Claxton scoring on a break and Parker dipping a shoulder and hitting a layup. By the time Claxton made two free throws at the 4:30 mark of the first half the lead was 32-17.

“I think we played well as a team,” freshman guard Mike Walker said. “We shared the ball and people made shots.”

Penn State led 35-24 at the break. This while scoring an amazing (for them) 24 points in the paint and not hitting any 3-pointers. The locker room talk centered on keeping the energy level high through the first four minutes of the second half, which Penn State did, going up 47-32 when Danny Morrissey made a triple at 14:44.

It was 52-44 following Claxton's conventional three-point play at 10:28 when everything came unraveled. Penn State had neutralized OSU big man Terence Dials to that point by slapping big bodies (Johnson, Parker) on him and digging down with the guards. But in the final 10 minutes, the digging down doomed the Lions as the Buckeyes caught fire from the arc.

Down 52-41, J.J. Sullinger made a bomb that sparked a 11-0 run that tied it 52-52. As OSU crept closer, the Lions reverted to their No. 11 seed form and began kicking the ball around. The Buckeye rally eventually reached 15-2 covering six minutes and put them in front, 59-54.

During that time, Penn State had six turnovers. It had 13 in the second half (to Ohio State's one).

“You can't turn the ball over 13 times in a half and expect to win,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis. He was right. Though the Lions showed heart, rebounding to make things interesting in the final minutes, they only had one chance to tie. Parker was called for three seconds on the play.

It was one of the few poor plays by Parker on the evening. If there were a game ball in this one, it would have gone to Buckeye senior guard Tony Stockman, who scored 19 of his 25 in the second half to lead a comeback that pushed OSU into Friday's late game vs. No. 3 seed Wisconsin.

But Parker was strong, finishing with 21 points. Claxton had another impressive effort, scoring 20 to go along with 13 rebounds.

“We just came out to have fun tonight and play hard,” he said.

The maddening part for the Nittany Lions is they did both. And in the end, it didn't matter.

“We've been doing this all year, I guess,” Morrissey said.

GAME 1: No. 8 Northwestern built a 10-point second-half lead and held off a late Michigan (No. 9) charge to advance, 58-56. The Wildcats face Illinois, No. 1 in the tournament and the nation, Friday at noon on ESPN.

Mohamad Hachad led NU with 17. But T.J. Parker was in the middle of the action late. He missed the front end of a one-and-one with 17.6 seconds left and the Wildcats leading 55-53, giving the Wolverines a chance to tie. Dion Harris responded by making 1 of 2 free throws to make it 55-54 at 9.9.

Parker broke free on the following inbound-play and was intentionally fouled, giving NU two shots and the ball. He made one of two (56-54) and then was fouled just after a long inbound pass. He made both ends of a one-and-one to ice.

Michigan got a layup from Courtney Simms, giving the center a game-high 25, at the buzzer.

The Wildcats improved to 15-15 on the year. Michigan capped its year at 13-18.

GAME 2: No. 7 Iowa easily dispatched No. 10 Purdue 71-52, ending the legendary career of Boilermaker coach Gene Keady. Keady takes a record of 550-269 into retirement.

Long known for riding officials, Keady was the recipient of a terrific gesture after the game. Walking through the tunnel to the Purdue locker room, he passed by the referees' locker room.

They all came out and applauded as he walked by.

Always prepared with the perfect one-liner, Keady popped the following: “Sorry I yelled at you.”

Purdue finishes 7-21 on the year. Iowa is 20-10 and faces No. 2 seed Michigan State at 6:40 p.m. on ESPN-Plus.

The other Friday game matches No. 4 seed Indiana with No. 5 seed Minnesota at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.


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