|1st half||2nd half||final|
Another opportunity was squandered by Penn State on Thanksgiving Eve, as the Nittany Lions failed to erase an 11-point second half deficit against Bradley in the final of the Cancun Challenge. Lamar Stevens did all he could, scoring 27 points and setting the tournament record for points over four games, but his team shot just 29% for the game. Myles Dread had the opportunity to tie the game after Stevens intentionally missed the free throw and John Harrar tipped the ball out with 1.5 seconds on the clock, but the freshman missed the shot short and Penn State went home empty handed.
Bradley played with extended halfcourt pressure in the first half and it caused issues for Penn State's penetration-light offense. A harbinger of things to come, the Lions shot just 2-11 from deep in the first 20 minutes after going 9-17 on Tuesday against Wright State. Nonetheless, Stevens was there to carry the load. He scored 16 of PSU's 33 first half points every which way - mid-range jumpers, three-pointers, dribble drives, Euro steps, you name it.
The second half slipped away from the Lions as Bradley ground out tough bucket after tough bucket. Some miscommunications between the younger Penn Staters gave the Braves some open looks as their lead grew to 11. Darrell Brown was the creator that sparked the run, getting past Jamari Wheeler and Rasir Bolton using his strength and speed. Brown's three ball was falling as well, and for that Penn State had no answer. PSU finished 4-27 from deep on the night, their worst performance of the season.
It was a game of worsts for a number of Nittany Lions. Josh Reaves scored a season-low four points on 0-6 shooting and committed five turnovers, which has been a concerning trend for him this season; Dread went 1-7 from the field; Jamari Wheeler went scoreless and assist-less in 31 minutes after scoring 12 on Tuesday night. Rasir Bolton managed a bounce-back game of sorts with 10 points, but his 2-8 effort from three included some ugly misses. This confluence of career-worst performances could not have come at a worse time.
Penn State is very clearly missing an important cog to their machine, and he cannot come back soon enough if he's ready. Mike Watkins' presence feels like it can change a lot of issues this team is suffering from - interior scoring, consistent rebounding and a lack of shot blocking - but it remains to be seen if or when the redshirt junior will be able to return. It sure would be good timing if everyone involved deems he is ready to go for Tuesday's Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with No. 13 Virginia Tech in Happy Valley. If not, Chambers will have to get the active players geared up for a difficult game that could turn their season around.