But for the Penn State basketball team, an ESPN2 game against Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center carried critical implications for the season, just the same. The Lions entered the contest at 0-2 in the Big Ten and in dire need of a victory to keep from cementing an early spot in the conference basement.
And, after blowing a 16-point second-half lead, they exited at 0-3 in the league (8-7 overall) thanks to a demoralizing 64-55 loss that left Coach Ed DeChellis and his players stunned.
It kills us, DeChellis said of dropping a game PSU lead 42-26 with 12:24 remaining. It hurts me, it hurts the players. We didn't finish the game. To win in this league you have to finish.
You can't win a basketball game with one half, and unfortunately we proved that tonight, added guard Talor Battle, who was held scoreless in the final 20 minutes in finishing with nine points. It was only the fourth time all season he was held below double figures, but that really was not the primary issue for the Lions.
Of greater concern -- for this game and moving forward -- was lousy ball-handling. State led 31-16 at the half thanks to solid defense that led to 11 fastbreak points. The Lions held high-scoring Wolverine guard Manny Harris to two points.
But they got sloppy in the second half, with three turnovers in the first three minutes. Though PSU still led 36-22 when center Andrew Jones made a layup, it had blown an opportunity to boost the lead past 20 points.
And in terms of taking care of the ball, it only got worse from there. Chris Babb's 3-pointer with 12:24 left gave the Lions a 42-26 lead, but Michigan's Zack Novak countered with his squad's first triple of the night (it had missed 14 straight prior) to make it 42-29. Then a David Jackson turnover led to a Harris 3-pointer. Then Jackson missed a layup and Novak hit a trey.
With 10:48 remaining, the lead was down to 42-35. The Lions regrouped to make it 45-35 on a Jackson duece half a minute later, but from that point on everything came unraveled.
The turnovers continued, leading to easy Michigan bucket after bucket. The Wolverines outscored the Lions 29-10 the rest of the way. In the half, Michigan scored 21 points off 10 PSU turnovers.
A lot of them were just break-aways, DeChellis said. There is no defense for that.
As far as Battle was concerned, there was no defending Penn State's effort in this game, either. Asked if the Lions might have believed they had the game in hand at the break, he said, I would hate to say so.
But later, when asked if any sort of strategic change by Michigan led to the poor play, he admitted, No, I don't think so at all. It was just a poor effort. The players take sole responsibility for this loss.
He also blasted the team for our laziness and carelessness with the basketball.
The Lions actually did a good job on Harris most of the night, holding the Big Ten's leading scorer to a lone basket until his three ball midway through the second half. He finished with 13 points after making four trips to the free-throw line in garbage time.
Forward DeShawn Sims kept Michigan in it early and finished with 25 points on 12 of 17 shooting against a soft PSU front line. Guard Laval Lucas-Perry was a key to the late rally, making four 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes.
Babb was the only Lion in doubles with 14 points thanks to a 4-of-5 effort from the arc. Jackson did a good defensive work on Harris, but otherwise Penn State's starting frontcourt was once again a liability.
Jackson, Jones and forward Jeff Brooks combined for 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight turnovers. Jones did not have a rebound in the game. Brooks had five turnovers.
State gets a bye this weekend to chew on the loss and the 0-3 start in conference. Battle, a junior and the team leader, said he'll use some of the time trying to figure out what to tell his teammates.
We've just got to get back to the drawing board, he said.
Jones picked up two quick fouls and was never a factor. This was the first time all season he did not have a rebound. He logged only 16 minutes.
Backup center Andrew Ott played a season-high 21 minutes and scored eight points. But he only had one rebound.
Penn State had seven steals in the first half and none in the second.
Michigan's bench did not score a point in the game.
Michigan improved to 8-6 and 2-1 in the league. The Wolverines hustled out of the BJC as quickly as possible following the game to try to get home before a Midwestern snowstorm kicked into high gear.
The Nittany Lions travel to Illinois next Tuesday.