No. 19 Wisconsin 61, Penn State 57: Ice Cold Lions Get No Help from Officials

By Chad Markulics on March 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm
Mar 2, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Patrick Chambers reacts to a call during the game with the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

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In the immortal words of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery - "You're a f***ing disgrace."

We're hesitant to use such pointed language here on this wholesome family website, but the ire on this occasion is well-deserved for the referees’ performance on the final meaningful possession in Penn State's 61-57 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon. Not only was Rasir Bolton deemed to have thrown the ball away after clearly being hit by Wisconsin's Brevin Pritzl on the right sideline, but D.J. Carstensen's officiating crew declined to even review the play - neither to check for possession nor time remaining - that denied Penn State a rightful final chance to run a game-tying play.

Of course, the Nittany Lions had opportunities to take the game out of the officials' hands. They failed to convert on a single field goal over the final 8:01 of the game and left four points from free throws on the board (three misses, one on a front end of a 1-and-1). They did they best they could on the defensive end, holding the Badgers to just one bucket over the last 10:47 of the game, but it will end up as another close loss on Penn State's 12-17 (5-13) record. Patrick Chambers, who was understandably livid at the calls during the game, took the high road in the post-game press conference:

Still, it's another chapter in the sordid history of unfavorable calls against Penn State in big situations. Earlier this season a clear foul by Purdue on a Lamar Stevens drive was not called and led to a overtime that never should have happened but was dominated by Purdue. 

The game wasn't a total black hole for optimism, though. Wisconsin has been a second half team this season, but take nothing away from Penn State's performance over the first 20 minutes. They held Ethan Happ to just six points on 3-10 shooting, harassing him on every paint touch and forcing the all-B1G performer to earn everything before the half. The Nittany Lions also did a great job running would-be Badger shooters off the three-point line and forcing hurried looks from mid-range. Wisconsin still managed to shoot 43% from the field in the first half, but Penn State's defense did enough to give them a healthy seven-point cushion thanks to Stevens and Josh Reaves, who found his three-point range in this game to the tune of three triples.

Halftime saw the Badgers climb back into the game on the back of a barrage of Pritzl threes, two of which were unguarded in the corner. The Nittany Lions' main villain of the day, Pritzl was a perfect 4-4 from deep and led the Badgers in scoring with 17 points. Penn State ran offense exclusively through Stevens for a time between a few nice cameo possessions from Bolton as Chambers opted to play small ball. The tactics were mildly effective as it gave Stevens (22 points, 5-19 FG and 11-13 FT) room to play bully ball against Nate Reuvers and smaller defenders with Happ benched due to foul trouble. 

Chambers can have no qualms about his team's poor execution down the stretch however. With just under 15 seconds to play and the visitors down 59-57, Bolton thew a lazy entry pass to Stevens in the high post that was deflected by Wisconsin's Khalil Iverson and tipped out of bounds by Penn State's star forward. Reuvers made one of the two ensuing free throws, giving Wisconsin a three-point lead with eight seconds remaining before the non-call that drove the dagger into PSU's upset bid.

The Nittany Lions still have a chance to get the single-bye in the Big Ten Tournament that will see them avoid the dreaded Wednesday game in Chicago, but that goal becomes more of an uphill climb due to Indiana's upset of Michigan State this afternoon. Fortunately for Penn State, their final two games come against the two teams they will need to leapfrog in order to get that bye. Wednesday night sees them travel to Rutgers to try to avenge their low point of the season, and they'll close out the regular season on senior day for Josh Reaves and Davis Zemgulis against an Illinois team they took down in Champaign less than two weeks ago. More on the Scarlet Knights next week.

 

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