In early January, the Nittany Lions were 2-0 in the Big Ten, riding a seven-game winning streak and dreaming of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. There was a buzz around the program.
Eighteen days later, following a 64-42 embarrassment to Purdue at the Jordan Center Wednesday, the Nittany Lions have lost four straight and have been slaughtered in their last three. Leading scorer and rebounder Geary Claxton is gone for the year with a knee injury.
The buzz is gone, having been replaced by circling buzzards.
I think the most important thing is we just weren't having fun, said guard Mike Walker, the only Lion in doubles with 10 points off the bench. If you looked at our guys, there wasn't one smiling.
There were a lot of negatives and not a whole lot of positives, Coach Ed DeChellis added.
Penn State is now 10-8 overall and 2-4 in the conference. But the upcoming schedule -- at Iowa, followed by home games against Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State -- offers little hope of relief from the current slide.
This one got away from the Lions near the midway point of the first half. They were trailing 14-12 at the time but then went nearly seven minutes without scoring. Not making shots was one problem. Not getting them was another. State had only four attempts during the dry spell.
On the other end of the floor, PSU attempted to play zone against the Boilermakers. Big mistake. Purdue came into this one as the most accurate team from the arc in Big Ten play (44 percent), and proved why by making 6 of 13 triples in the first half.
Robbie Hummel, a 42-percent 3-point shooter, was barely guarded, and hit 3 of 4 from distance en route to a game-high 15 points.
DeChellis and Walker both shook off the train of the thought that the zone was the issue, pointing out that the Boilers ripped up PSU's man-to-man defense early on, as well.
It wasn't about X's and O's, the coach said. It was about energy level.
It all added up to a 39-18 Purdue lead at the break, and it was only a matter of time until the Boilermakers improved to 14-5 and 5-1. But it should be noted that Matt Painter's club came into the BJC at 1-3 on the road for the year.
Not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things, but Penn State stayed in the zone in the second half. And Purdue continued to abuse it. The lead reached 48-18 before PSU forward Jamelle Cornley scored back-to-back buckets with 13 minutes remaining.
We were embarrassed (at the half), DeChellis said. I'm not sure we came out in the second half and did anything about it.
The announced crowd of 6,287 did. Once the Lions fell behind by 30, many in attendance began heading for the exits.
The Penn State players, meanwhile, had to stick around until the buzzer. And afterward, they were left repeating a mantra that has become so familiar in recent years.
We've got to regroup, Cornley said. It's a situation where we have to find our identity.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, they may already have.
Penn State was beaten on the boards, 31-25, and had three offensive rebounds in the game. Speaking of which...
Cornley talked around a question about the team looking a bit lost without Claxton. But DeChellis brought it up without being asked: No. 5 is not playing anymore, and we have to understand that.
Claxton will have surgery on his knee next Wednesday.
Former Penn State place-kicker and current Chicago Bear Robbie Gould was in the house for this one. Considering the Lions went 1 of 5 from the arc to open the game, perhaps they should have looked to Gould for advice on how to make 3-pointers.
Penn State is at Iowa Saturday for a 6 p.m. tip. The game is being carried by the Big Ten Network.