Because Friday night at the Jordan Center, PSU was belted with another stiff shot of reality, and this one counted. Playing its third game without top weapon Geary Claxton (broken hand), the Nittany Lions and their veteran backcourt came completely unglued in falling 59-51 to Stony Brook.
That's the same Stony Brook that went 4-24 as a member of the America East last season. And the same Stony Brook that lost to Cornell (76-72) earlier this week. And the same Stony Brook that made the long trip across Interstate 80 via bus to save money.
It's very disappointing, said sophomore forward Jamelle Cornley, PSU's leading scorer who was limited to nine points on nine shots by the Seawolves' swarming defense. There is no excuse, really. You would think [we had] a wake-up call after Shippensburg, that we would be upbeat and ready to play. But apparently we were just trying to get this game out of the way to go rest or get ready for Bucknell Tuesday.
Saying it's embarrassing can get pretty redundant after a while, he added.
Penn State coach Ed DeChellis pointed squarely to his four-man backcourt rotation — Ben Luber, Mooch Jackson, Danny Morrissey and Mike Walker — when assessing the damage, and with good reason. The guards combined to make 9 of 36 shots and 5 of 25 3-pointers while turning the ball over 10 times. They also struggled against Stony Brook's full-court pressure, timidly working the ball up the floor rather than attacking and trying to score.
Worst of all, however, was the job they did defensively, allowing guards Ricky Lucas and Mitchell Beauford to combine for 43 points and six steals. The duo entered the game as the only Seawolves averaging in double figures and were the focal points of PSU's defensive game plan. They eventually forced DeChellis into a 2-3 zone.
I'm very disappointed, DeChellis said. We made dumb decisions with the ball, we turned it over at critical times, we took tough shots at critical times and didn't make them, we didn't guard their two guys. Our perimeter offense and perimeter defense was nowhere to be found.
That was especially evident with the scored tied 47-47 with less than four minutes to go. Morrissey shot an air ball from the arc (he was 4 of 13 in the game). At the other end, Lucas, a talented transfer from George Washington, drove through PSU's 2-3 zone and was fouled, making both free throws. Then PSU center Milos Bogetic turned it over, and Lucas drove again, drawing another foul and making two more free throws to boost the lead to 51-47.
With two minutes to go and Stony Brook up 51-49, Lucas popped free for a wide-open 15-footer. It went down, and State never got closer than four the rest of the way.
I don't know how in the heck you get a free-throw line jumper against a zone, DeChellis said. We had guys sucked out, not where they were supposed to be.
The Lions fell to 2-1 with the loss, and things could get much worse fast. Bucknell visits the BJC Tuesday, then St. Joe's comes calling a week from today. Three days after that, State travels to Georgia Tech. And it appears unlikely Claxton will be back for any of those games.
We got ourselves into this mess, DeChellis said. We've got to get ourselves out of it.
Only time will tell if this loss was the kick in the pants the team needed. Cornley, for one, will believe it when he sees it.
After our first two games, we tried to develop our swagger too quick, he said. We don't have a swagger yet, we don't have an identity. We're still trying to find that.
We're not who we think we are, he added.
Cornley sustained a thigh bruise in practice this week and his status for the game was uncertain until early evening. I thought that kid gutted it out tonight and gave us everything he had, DeChellis said.
Luber, a senior, had five turnovers, mostly because he was dogged by Beauford and Eddie Castellanos all game.
Stoney Brook scored 23 points off PSU's 21 team turnovers. The Lions scored four points off 16 turnovers.
The Lions' timid play was evidenced by their free-throw stats: they were 4 of 5. The aggressive Seawolves were 15 of 23. For the record, the officials were from the Big Ten, and they called a good game.
Penn State's two primary centers — Brandon Hassell and Bogetic — both had ham-handed games with four turnovers in 21 and 12 minutes, respectively. At least Luber's five miscues were in 38 minutes with him handling the ball every time up the floor.
How two-dimensional is Stony Brook? No one besides Lucas (22) or Beauford (21) had more than seven points. In fact, the 10 other Seawolves who played combined for 16 points.
Cornley got four shots in the first half and five in the second. Meanwhile, Morrissey fired up five shots in the game's first six minutes (making one) and 14 in the game (making four).
Mooch Jackson was 0 of 6 from the floor and is now 4 of 16 for the season; this in 69 minutes of play.
CLOSING THOUGHT: Come to think of it, maybe Penn State's non-conference schedule is not too easy.