Penn State basketball, 3-7 in their last 10 games, made the short trip to College Park to take on Maryland. After losing to the Terps 74-68, the Nittany Lions once certain future for dancing in the madness of March is now all but extinct.
What Penn State basketball did well
As a team, Penn State was 27-53 (50.9%) from the field and 12-26 (46.2%). Those percentages should win a lot of games. Especially when you consider that the Nittany Lions made two more overall field goals and six more 3-point shots.
Coming into the contest, Penn State basketball only averaged 2.2 blocks per game, which had them ranked 321st in the country. However, against the Terps, the Nittany Lions swatted away six blocked shots.
Kayne Clary, a 3-star freshman guard from Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia, was 8-11 from the field and 1-2 from downtown for 17 points. He not only led the Nittany Lions in scoring but he set his career high with those 17 points.
Jalen Pickett went 7-11 from the field and 1-2 from long-range for 15 points. Andrew Funk went 4-7 from 3-point land and 5-9 overall for 14.
What went wrong for Penn State basketball
As soon as Penn State basketball started unleashing its barrage of long-range bombs, Penn State fans knew it was going to be a wild ride. This game is a perfect microcosm of the season-long struggles of Penn State.
Coming into today’s game, the Nittany Lions were ranked 301st in rebounding margin at minus three rebounds per game. Against Maryland, they were outrebounded 28-23 for a negative five mark.
Another issue with long-range shooting is free-throw attempts. Without a guard who regularly slashes and drives to the lane, or a legitimate big man to pound the rock inside, the discrepancy in free-throw attempts can become staggering. Penn State only went to the foul line four times the entire game, making two of those attempts. Meanwhile, Maryland went 18-23 from the charity stripe. A 16-point differential is going to be very difficult to overcome for any team.
One of the bright spots all season for the Nittany Lions has been ball control. When was the last time you ever heard of a Penn State basketball team leading the nation, in ANY category (except for maybe disappointing losses)? Yet that is exactly what the Nittany Lions were doing with turnovers per game, averaging only 8.7.
Unfortunately, in the game against Maryland, they committed an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers.
Where does Penn State basketball go from here?
A once-promising season is rapidly deteriorating into the typical campaign for Penn State. Each loss that they suffer reduces their chance of an at-large bid significantly. Going into today’s game, one gambling website put Penn State’s chances of making the “Big Dance” at 15%.
Today’s loss will only cause that number to plummet.
I think that if Jalen Pickett’s whole career was at Penn State, he would definitely be in the discussion as “Best Penn State basketball player”. Part of what makes him great is the fact he’s an iron man, staying in games and gobbling up as many minutes as he does points and rebounds combined.
What also hurts Pickett the most is his iron-man status. In today’s game, he looked dog-tired in the final 5 minutes. This kid averages 35.9 minutes per game and it seemed he just ran out of gas by the end.
Penn State has six games remaining in its regular season. Three road games, and three home contests. They would probably need to win out in those final six affairs and make a nice run in the Big Ten tourney.
Unfortunately, I think the only way the Lions can end their 11-year drought from the NCAA tournament is to win the conference tourney and get the automatic bid.
However, the regular season continues on Valentine’s Day, with a home game against Illinois. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.