No. 17 Michigan 72, Penn State 63: Lions Lose Watkins, Fall on Senior Night

By Chad Markulics on February 21, 2018 at 10:15 pm
Feb 21, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions forward Mike Watkins (24) sits on the bench with ice on his knee following an injury during the first half against the Michigan Wolverines at Bryce Jordan Center.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
  1st half 2nd half final
Michigan 34 38 72
Penn State 26 37 63

Senior night in State College was set up to be a happy affair. Penn State had been playing as well as any team in the country and had the opportunity to set up a run to the NCAA Tournament with a victory on senior night for Shep Garner and Julian Moore.

Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions (19-11, 9-8), an early injury to Mike Watkins and costly turnovers down the stretch doomed them to a disappointing end to their home slate and delivered a gut punch to their postseason hopes. Tony Carr's 21 points and late game heroics were not enough as Penn State dropped their second straight.

Watkins' early knee injury put a damper on early proceedings. It appeared he landed awkwardly on his right leg (his status remains unclear). He made a brief re-entry to the game after a stint on the stationary bike, but clearly could not give enough to be a positive against Michigan's mobile big men. Moore gave a few good minutes in his stead on senior night with six early points, but the Wolverines had no issue getting to the rim in the first half. Duncan Robinson of all people had three buckets around the rim, indicative of how lackluster Penn State's defense was after forcing five early turnovers.

Moore mishandled an inbound pass and saved it to Michigan for an instant fast break. Jordan Poole slammed on the recovering Moore for the and-1, sapping the air out of a packed BJC. Robinson drained a three on the next trip to give the Wolverines a 13-point lead, their largest of the half. Penn State recovered well though, getting the lead down to eight at the break by draining four straight from the field. Lamar Stevens made tough shots to will his team to a mere 34-26 deficit going into the locker room.

Whatever Chambers said at the break got Penn State into a competing mood. Carr and Stevens took over to open the second half, scoring the first eight points. The Nittany Lions took the lead on a floater plus the harm by Carr soon after the break. A 10-0 run was capped by a Carr to Stevens alley-oop in transition, and it seemed the tide had turned.

Michigan went to a 1-3-1 zone with 15 minutes to play as John Beilein attempted to throw a wrench in Penn State's iso-centric offense. The zone helped to stop the bleeding as the Wolverines punched back behind triples from Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Josh Reaves hit one of his own to set up a fun finish in front of the big crowd.

  Poss PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FTRate
Michigan 66 1.10 54.9% 20.0% 18.3% 37.8
Penn St 0.96 48.3% 24.3% 15.2% 18.6

Naturally, the BJC's clock had to play its part in such a massive game. It froze in the middle of a crucial Penn State possession with the Lions down 49-48, leading to a desperation heave by Garner that was nowhere near close. Michigan then scored five straight capped by Poole's triple to push the lead to 54-48 as Penn State struggled against the zone on back-to-back possessions.

As the game wound down, that zone choked the life out of Penn State without their towering presence down low. Turnovers and poor finishing at the rim saw the Wolverines take full advantage to coast to victory, capped off by a dagger three from Robinson, their tenth of the night on 21 attempts. There was to be no senior night magic on this occasion for Penn State. 

The loss puts a major bump in Penn State's road to the NCAA Tournament. Most bracketologists already had the Lions on the outside looking out. With a lone trip to Nebraska (Sunday, 6:15 p.m. tip) left in the regular season, it's looking more and more like it will take a run in the Big Ten Tournament next week in order for these Lions to go dancing.

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