Game Grades: Men’s Basketball vs. Michigan State
Penn State lost in a close, back and forth game against Michigan State 79-71 at the Bryce Jordan Center Tuesday night. Despite winning the first game of the season away at Michigan State, the Nittany Lions were exposed, blowing a 10-2 start to the game and a 19-point lead later on. Between these two ranked teams, the loser (No. 20 Penn State) may not be ranked for much longer.
If the game ended at halftime it would probably be an A grade. Sophomore guard Myreon Jones made his return felt, scoring 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting. The deep ball was the main factor in putting the Nittany Lions ahead until it was a reason they lost that lead.
In the first half, the team caught fire shooting 10-of-17 from beyond the arc, helping them to secure a 15-point lead at halftime. Jones was the main distributor and helped open up other options in sophomore guard Myles Dread and freshman forward Seth Lundy, who made a combined five 3-pointers. Senior forward Mike Watkins opened the game with an alley-oop and played sparingly for his senior night with 12 points and nine rebounds.
On the other hand, senior forward Lamar Stevens had a poor shooting night. Despite 15 points he shot a dismal 3-of-19 from the field and missed five free throws. Pat Chambers continued to play him the entire first half despite missing a couple easy layups and dunks.
In the second half, the team lost the entirety of its momentum, starting the half 0-of-10 from deep. Meanwhile, Michigan State would use a series of runs to go from down 15 points to leading by 10 points.
It just seemed from a spectator's perspective that the Penn State bucket must have been crooked because none of the team’s shots would fall. Overall, the team shot 23-of-68 from the field, or 33.8%. The team would rally to make it a two-point game with less than five minutes remaining. However, a couple of series shooting 50% from the charity stripe hurt the teams chances to comeback.
The offense needs to figure out how to maintain a shooting rhythm once they get in their groove. The Nittany Lions are a very streaky shooting team and need to become consistent or find a player who can consistently make shots. Stevens once again took too many isolation possessions and hurt his team’s flow.
Overall the defense played intensely thanks to the rowdy fan support and that fueled the transition opportunities that allowed Penn State to take a large lead in the first half. When playing against a team with a star player like senior guard Cassius Winston, it is important to keep that player in check.
Winston was held to 14 points but on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting, and he also added seven assists. It was in the post where the Nittany Lions were dominated, being outrebounded 43-35. Junior forward Xavier Tillman Sr. scored 23 on 10-of-13 shooting and was amazing on the boards, pulling down 15 rebounds.
The defense for Penn State could not find a way to stop Michigan State when the team would run plays and put itself in bad situations by consistently not boxing out. Penn State managed to keep the game close at the end but it never should have come to that. It seemed like the Spartans could not miss in the majority of their second-half possessions.
When the defense needed a stop the most, Winston nailed a running floating shot and a plus one to put the game out of reach at a seven-point margin with 54 seconds remaining. The tempo was there, but they need to improve on boxing out and guarding in the paint.
Yes it was senior night but was that an excuse to play Stevens for 35 minutes? Shooting 15% on the night hurt his team offensively and Chambers continued to allow the offense to feed him the ball.
Michigan State allowed Winston to find his shot by letting the offense flow fluidly around him, which allowed his teammates to find open shots too. On the other hand, Penn State found open shots only in transition offense for the most part. Stevens had too many possessions where he was isolated and everyone in the arena could tell that he was shooting the ball.
It is concerning to see a trend where Penn State consistently takes a halftime lead then blows it. This happened with games against Rutgers and Minnesota, even if they did end up winning both games. Chambers needs to instill a mentality to continue to run up the score and stop playing conservative when his team has a big second-half lead.
The team will wrap up the regular season on Saturday at Northwestern as heavy favorites. From there, the team will need to fix some pieces to prepare for a run at the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness.
Matt Noah is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.