Michigan 62, Penn State 58: Lions Fight Hard but Come Up Short Against Wolverines in Big Ten Opener

By Nick Polak on December 13, 2020 at 4:17 pm
Dec 13, 2020; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Jamari Wheeler (5) dribbles the ball as Michigan Wolverines center Hunter Dickinson (1) and guard Mike Smith (12) defend during the second half at Crisler Center.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State gave a great effort in Ann Arbor in its Big Ten opener, but ultimately fell to Michigan in a closely-contested showdown. Jim Ferry's team could have fallen far behind early on, but stuck with their game plan and nearly pulled the upset. Instead, a game-tying shot came up short and the Wolverines took the game 62 - 58.

Box Score
  1st 2nd Final
Penn State 27 31 58
Michigan 36 26 62

Izaiah Brockington led the way for Penn State with 14 points, though he would tell you it was far from his best day. Myreon Jones and Sam Sessoms also reached double-digits with 10 points apiece. Trent Buttrick played well and led the team with 7 rebounds, and Jamari Wheeler paced his team with 4 assists.

As hot as Penn State started against Virginia Tech, that's how cold they started this one. The Ann Arbor rim wasn't kind as the Lions saw several shots roll out early on, but most of the struggles were self-inflicted. The offensive movement was disjointed and there were too many missed shots around the rim early on. There were also too many forced, contested shots, especially from Brockington. On the other end, Hunter Dickinson tormented the interior of the Nittany Lion defense for much of the half.

Game Leaders
Team Player  
PSU Izaiah Brockington (14) Points
UM Hunter Dickinson (20)
PSU Trent Buttrick (7) Rebounds
UM Dickinson/Wagner (7)
PSU Jamari Wheeler (4) Assists
UM Smith/Wagner (3)

Still, for as bad as the Lions often looked early in this one, they managed to hang around and went into halftime down 36-27. It would have been much worse if not for outstanding efforts from Sessoms and Abdou Tsimbila. Sessoms was able to create open looks thanks to his speed while Tsimbila changed the complexion of the game by adding an interior presence on both ends of the floor.

And then the second half started. Ferry's squad looked like a new team out of the break. The defense turned the pressure way up, and the offense finally started to see some shots fall, unsurprisingly just as Brockington started to see his shots find twine. Michigan's lead quickly evaporated, and the two entered into a back-and-forth, lead-trading battle for much of the rest of the half.

Both sides played about as hard as you can play a college basketball game, with Penn State thriving on defensive pressure and sneaky drives into the lane and the Wolverines surviving on their advantage in the size department with Dickinson.

After a pair of missed Michigan free throws, Penn State had the final possession with 18.3 seconds remaining on the clock and the Wolverines up 60-58. Sessoms tried to drive to tie the game but was stifled by a strong defensive effort. Isaiah Livers grabbed the rebound and was fouled, then hit the two freebies to seal the win.

Quick Takeaways

  • We saw early jump shots from both John Harrar and Trent Buttrick in this one (Harrar on a mid-range jumper and Buttrick from beyond the arc). It's going to be tough for these guys in Big Ten play given the surplus of impressive big men in the conference, so it's worth wondering if there will be an effort to increase their shooting range in order to spread those opponents a bit thinner.
  • This may not have been Myles Dread's best game on the offensive end, but he was outstanding defensively. He has developed wonderfully as an all-around basketball player since arriving on campus.
  • Tsimbila provided a spark in the first half but reminded everyone that he's still just a true freshman in the second half. He's starting from a great place, but he has work to do.
  • This team just doesn't quit. Michigan could have easily taken a 20-point lead during the first half but the Lions just kept hanging around.
  • Seth Lundy struggled to find his touch in this one. The team hasn't necessarily struggled to find offensive production without his shots falling, but they would be a hell of a lot tougher to defend if they could get the whole team hot at the same time.
  • Considering how successful Sessoms had been getting to the rim previous to the final shot, it's hard to fault Ferry for letting him try to do it once more with the game on the line. Michigan simply played it perfectly. That'll happen.
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