|1st half||2nd half||final|
One of the greatest challenges for Penn State men's basketball is getting fans interested, insofar as the program even has fans. The hope for the 2018-19 iteration of the squad was that a 63-62, nationally televised upset at home against No. 13 Virginia Tech would lay the foundation of a fun season that could engage the fanbase.
They immediately dropped two games in a row.
An ice cold shooting night at the Bryce Jordan Center on Tuesday left Penn State 0-2 in the Big Ten, dropping their second straight game and the conference home opener to Indiana 64-62. The Nittany Lions had a chance to tie or take the lead at the game's end, but a Rasir Bolton layup would not go, and an inbounds play with 2.3 seconds remaining failed to produce a shot attempt.
Star freshman Romeo Langford led the way for the Hoosiers, scoring 17 points, with 15 of them coming in the first half. The takeaway from this game, however, is not that of a team being outplayed by an all-world freshman. The Nittany Lions once again showed very little on the offensive end of the floor. Poor shooting allowed Indiana to clog the lane, forcing Penn State to try to win from the outside. And as we now know eight games into this season, that is something they are simply not equipped to do.
Penn State got to the free throw line at a good clip, putting four Hoosiers into foul trouble, but shot an almost unconscionable 28 percent (4-14) at the stripe in the first half. The second half showed only limited improvement, and Penn State finished the game 11-26 at the line, good for 42 percent shooting overall. In a game lost by two points, having an 83 percent free throw shooter in Josh Reaves go 1-6 at the line is a disaster.
Aside from shooting, Penn State outplayed Indiana. They got to the line more frequently (26 attempts to 14), beat them on the offensive glass (15 offensive boards to 7), and forced more turnovers (12 steals to 6). This game was simply about shooting the basketball. Despite shooting 12 more free throws, Penn State made the same number of free throws as Indiana.
A peculiar development in this game was the limitations on star center Mike Watkins, who saw just 11 minutes on the night, and just two in the second half. It was a puzzling decision to keep the big man on the bench, made all the more baffling by his checking in with two seconds left in the game, indicating he was neither injured nor being disciplined. He only had one foul, and while his conditioning is still returning to form, he had played 21 minutes in his first game against Virginia Tech. After the game, Chambers stated "We're trying to get him reacclimated." You could make the case that John Harrar was better suited to play with the Nittany Lions pressing for long stretches, but his absence seemed to loom large on offense. Watkins finished 3-4 from the floor with 6 points.
Bolton led the way for Penn State with 17 points, going 2-5 from three and 3-4 at the line. Lamar Stevens finished with 12 points and 10 boards, Myles Dread had 12 points, and Reaves had seven rebounds and five steals despite his putrid shooting performance.
Penn State (4-4, 0-2 Big Ten) now returns to the rest of its out of conference schedule, with five games to close out the calendar year. Buy games against Colgate and UMBC at the Bryce Jordan Center bookend a surprisingly extensive travel schedule this December, with games in Atlantic City (against NC State in a rematch of last year's B1G/ACC Challenge), Pittsburgh (at Duquesne), and Tuscaloosa (at Alabama).