Another Tight Loss for Hoop Team

Forgive the Penn State basketball team for feeling a bit star-crossed. Though the Nittany Lions have played well in most of their Big Ten games this season -- particularly at home -- something always goes awry in the final moments to crush their hopes.

And so it was at the Jordan Center Wednesday night, when State pulled within three (66-63) of No. 21 Michigan as the game wound down before disaster struck, resulting in a 71-65 setback. The Lions fell to 10-9 overall and 2-6 in the conference with their fourth-straight loss to their fourth-straight ranked foe.

“Something always gives,” said freshman forward Jamelle Cornley, who had 16 points and five rebounds for PSU. “We can't find that break right now and it's very frustrating. But we're gonna keep at it and keep playing as hard as we can.”

Though playing hard has been an issue in a few blowout losses this season, generally speaking the undersized Lions have held up well in that department. And Wednesday was no different.

They battered the MUCH bigger Wolverines (16-3, 6-2) on the offensive glass, pulling in 17 for the game and at one point forcing Tommy Amaker to go with a zone defense to at least have his posts in the vicinity of the hoop. They committed a season-low eight turnovers and outscored Michigan 34-24 in the paint.

And, after overcoming a 13-point second-half deficit behind Cornley and sophomore forward Geary Claxton (17 points, eight rebounds), found themselves down by three with a minute to go. But with 57 seconds left, a slow defensive switch led to an open look from the arc by Wolverine guard Daniel Horton. He made it -- his team's 12th triple on 25 tries, including seven makes by fellow guard Dion Harris (23 points) -- and the lead was 69-63.

“That one shot hurts you every single time,” Cornley said.

“They're good shooters,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. “We didn't get out and find them when we needed to.”

Penn State, meanwhile, has shot well most of the year. But once again, the touch was gone when it mattered most. But not the scrap. After Horton's big bucket, the Lions had a single possession where they missed five straight shots. But they either hustled for the offensive rebound or knocked the ball off a Michigan player each time.

Unfortunately, while this was going on, the clock was running. By the time backup guard Mike Walker finally made a 12-footer to cut it to 69-65, there were only 16 seconds left. PSU was forced to quickly foul. Horton, whose surgical attack included 13 points and 12 assists, made both shots.

And that was that.

“We almost, almost, almost did it again,” DeChellis said. “But we didn't.”

NOTES

• Cornley sustained what he called a “sprained MCL” in his left knee late in the game but returned to action after a short absence. “Nothing serious,” he said.

• Seldom-used Lion rookie Nikola Obradovic did not play after breaking his nose earlier in the week.

• Penn State faces its fifth-straight ranked opponent Saturday when it travels to No. 6 Illinois.

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