Column: Lions continue to fall just short

posted January 23, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack Milewski

The Penn State men’s basketball team is following a similar script to that of the Nittany Lion football team this season. The football team started off 4-0 before stumbling through Big Ten play and finishing the season 7-6, thanks to a miraculous bowl game victory. The basketball team got off to a historic start as they went 12-1 in their first 13 games, but now they find themselves at 12-7 with seemingly no answer to their losing streak.

After losing Wednesday night to Michigan State 66-60 in East Lansing, Penn State is now 0-6 in Big Ten play. The game followed a theme that is all too familiar to Penn State this season, a close loss. Penn State’s last five games have been decided by an average of less than six points. Earlier in the season, the Nittany Lions were able to pull out victories against lesser teams with the score tight, but now they find themselves struggling to flip the script against stronger Big Ten opponents.

Many Penn State fans who thought that this would be the season where the Nittany Lions rose from obscurity and challenged in the Big Ten, are now wondering if they will even win more than four games. However, as bad as it may seem for the Nittany Lions at the moment, there are many reasons for hope as the Big Ten conference schedule is still young.
Penn State’s main problem is that beyond D.J. Newbill, night in and night out the Nittany Lions have no other credible scoring threat. Newbill leads the Big Ten in scoring with 21.7 points per game. The next closest player to him is Brandon Taylor, who is averaging just less than 10 points per game.

For a team that is playing in arguably the best basketball conference in the nation, it is very hard to win if you don’t even have two players averaging double figures. In the early non-conference games, that fact wasn’t exposed as much because the caliber of teams that Penn State played wasn’t nearly as good as it is in the Big Ten. Now that they are facing stout competition day in and day out, the need for secondary scoring is at the forefront of Penn State’s problems.

Another concern that Penn State needs to address is the lack of a post game. Penn State is just inside the top 100 as far as rebounds per game, which isn’t good enough to compete in the Big Ten. However, the more pressing matter is that Penn State has no inside scoring presence. Forget the rebounds; if an undersized team is good at boxing out they can compete on the boards. What Penn State needs is for one of their big men to start scoring down low. Teams don’t respect Penn State’s game down low and because of this they can pressure the guards outside.

Finally, Penn State needs to be more of a team. This stems directly from the fact that there is little to no secondary scoring, so the trust between Newbill and the rest of the team, especially down the stretch, may not be there. Penn State is an abysmal 324th in the nation in assists per game. When the game is on the line, they become even more one dimensional as the ball rarely leaves Newbill’s hands. Obviously you want the ball in the hands of your best player as time is winding down, but Penn State needs to move the ball around throughout the game.

With 12 games left, Penn State only needs to win four games to match their season total in wins from last season. If the Nittany Lions start spreading the ball around, and producing more points in the paint, they have a very good shot on finishing the season at least .500. Despite the 0-6 record in the Big Ten, Penn State has been very close to winning a plethora of times. Even though things may seem bleak, there are still reasons for hope for Penn State fans.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Jack Milewski is freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email jbm250@psu.edu.