Penn State and Wisconsin are not known for playing anything remotely resembling beautiful basketball when they get together. That was especially true in the latest edition Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Despite an improved effort in the second half, a brutal first eight minutes for Pat Chambers' team was the difference in this one. Penn State fell by a final of 58-49, the first back-to-back losses of the season.
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For Wisconsin, it was all about Ohio State transfer Micah Potter. The big man ended the day with 24 points and 13 boards, including a ridiculously efficient 4-of-6 from deep. In fact, with about eight minutes gone in the first half, he was the only player on the scoreboard for either team, as the Badgers led 8-0. He finished the first half with 18 points.
For Penn State, Lamar Stevens led the way with 19 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. Izaiah Brockington was the only other Lion in double figures with 15 points of his own. It was the lowest scoring output of the season for Penn State.
This one started out about as ugly as a basketball game could start, with both teams failing to score before the under-16 stoppage in play. Wisconsin finally broke through thanks to Potter, who had the first 12 for the visitors.
The Nittany Lions just couldn't get anything consistent going until the Badgers had already built a decent lead. Stevens and Myreon Jones, two of the Lions' more reliable scorers, were not able to elevate the offense as they have done in the past. Eventually, Stevens did start to find some success, however, but he was joined in the offensive effort by an unlikely source.
Despite averaging just 3.8 points per game on the year, defensive-specialist Jamari Wheeler was an integral part of the Penn State offense in the first half. Going 2-of-3 beyond the arc and 3-of-4 overall, the speedy guard's eight points came right when the team needed them.
The teams traded blows for the rest of the half, though the Badgers held a substantial 9-point lead at the break. As boring as the first 20 minutes were, at least we did get another Brockington highlight.
Penn State didn't have many first half highlights, but this Izaiah Brockington slam was enjoyable.pic.twitter.com/HR1RNNsgX6— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) January 11, 2020
The second half began with much of the same. Neither team did anything noteworthy offensively to start, but the teams continued to punch and counterpunch. Or, at least as much as you can punch and counterpunch while each starting 1-of-5 from the field.
As was the case in the first half, Stevens was the only one to find any sort of consistent success on the offensive end. But the Lions finally started to break out of their slump a bit as the half continued. The defense started playing with more fire. Jones hit a few shots. Brockington hit a tough layup just over 10 minutes left in the half to shrink the lead to four, but could not convert the free throw to trim the deficit even more. But just as things were looking up, Wisconsin responded with an and-one of its own following a pair of offensive rebounds.
From there, as is so often the case in these matchups, the Badgers just continued to hit shots. There was nothing wrong with anything Penn State did defensively. In fact, they continued to get excellent efforts on that end of the floor from the whole squad, particularly Myles Dread. But whenever it needed a shot to fall, Wisconsin got one. In many ways, it was the perfect representation of how this rivalry has gone over the past decade.
To their credit, the Lions never gave in. The lead fluctuated, but the game never got out of hand. But for every Penn State run, there was an answer from Wisconsin. Stevens and Brockington on their own weren't nearly enough to grab the win. A putrid day for Mike Watkins (0 points, 0-3 shooting, 4 rebounds, 0 blocks) limited what the team could do on the offensive end. A combined seven points from Myreon Jones, Dread, and Curtis Jones (combined 3-20 shooting, 1-14 from deep, all 7 points from Jones) certainly didn't help matters, either.
To this point in the season, Penn State had been excellent in games following a loss. After the Ole Miss and Ohio State loses they responded with a blowout win over Syracuse and a top-five upset of Maryland, respectively. They did not show that same resilience against Wisconsin, however. Against a team as stout defensively as the Badgers, the Lions really needed a quick start to reenergize the team and the home crowd, but that just didn't happen. The team will all but surely lose their spot in the AP rankings as a result of the past week.
Next up, the Lions will head back to the road to take on Minnesota on Wednesday, January 15. The Gophers don't look like much with their 8-7 (2-3) record, but the underlying numbers are better than they look, as they sit at No. 39 in the KenPom rankings. They will have course have the home court as well. It will be another tough road test for Nittany Lions as they try to break out of their first losing streak of the season.