|1st half||2nd half||Final|
Penn State dropped to 2-3 in Big Ten play and 12-6 overall with a loss to Indiana Tuesday night in Bloomington. The maddening inconsistency of the Nittany Lions in the 2017-18 season continues as they dropped the first game in a critical four-game stretch.
Penn State never led in the second half and, despite hanging around, never looked prepared to mount a real comeback. Indiana (10-7, 3-2 Big Ten) took the lead with over 5 minutes left in the first half and never relinquished it. Juwan Morgan led the Hoosiers with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Tony Carr hit a three-pointer with 8 seconds remaining to cut Indiana's lead to 70-67, which was Penn State's first field goal since the 7:29 mark in the second half. They hung in down the home stretch by living at the free throw line, which did not yield tremendous results as they shot just 12-18 from the stripe on the day.
Carr finished the game with 28 points on 20 shots. He hit some very tough ones throughout the game, as Indiana knew the offense was limited to he and Stevens for large stretches. That said, he was once again caught forcing questionable shots, none moreso than his three-point heave from 24 feet with 1:07 remaining down 66-60.
The big news that dropped just an hour before tip was that Josh Reaves would miss the game. As a team with virtually no reliable depth, losing their primary source of energy and the conference leader in steals was a huge blow to the chances of the Nittany Lions. They entered the day as a 1.5-point favorite; by the time the game tipped, Indiana was favored to win.
It was apparent from the jump that Penn State was going to miss the presence of the junior wing. Starting in his place was Nazeer Bostick, who missed a three, committed a goaltend, and turned the ball over off the dribble during his first few possessions. Jamari Wheeler fared no better upon entering, committing an early foul and turnover as well.
The Nittany Lions kept it close in the first half behind another strong game from Lamar Stevens. He picked up right where he left off in the Northwestern game, showing great poise taking the ball to the basket and exposing the frequent mismatches thrown at him by the undersized Hoosiers. Carr's two contested jumpers down the stretch kept Penn State close with Mike Watkins on the bench with two fouls.
Speaking of Watkins, he did not have a shot attempt in this game until 13:32 left in the second half, when he knocked down a turnaround jumper. Keen-eyed observers will note that Watkins gets set up by far the most by Reaves, so it was no surprise that the team struggled to find Watkins without his top facilitator in the game. Watkins finished the game a perfect 4-4 from the field, and the inability to get him the ball for most of the game was a key factor in the offense's struggles.
Ultimately, this game simply told us what we already know about Penn State. They are a razor thin team that cannot afford to lose any of their four best players if they are going to have a chance against decent competition. The absence of Reaves impacted the Nittany Lions on both ends. They left too many plays out there in a game where the opponent missed 21 three point attempts.
Next up for the Nittany Lions is a date with Nebraska Friday at 7 p.m. It is unclear if Reaves will be available for the first home game since Penn State students returned from winter break. For the sake of Penn State fans, let's hope he plays.