UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It came down to the final seconds of play, but Penn State men's basketball couldn't complete its comeback attempt, falling short against Wisconsin in the Big Ten home opener.
For Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers, Penn State did all could, climbing back from a nearly 20-point second-half deficit to arrive within one in the final seconds of regulation.
"I'm proud of my guys competing to the end," Chambers said. "They put us in a position to be successful. I thought we executed our end of game stuff as good as you can. To come back from that deficit, we dug a little deeper because we looked a little sluggish in the first half."
Trailing 31-25 at halftime, Penn State struggled out of the locker room as the Badgers went up by as many as 17 points with 9:40 remaining.
Signature to a Chambers-led team though, the Nittany Lions weren't going to go quietly.
"We're a team that never gives up, no matter the deficit," Shep Garner said. "We're a team that never gives up and we always preach one possession at a time. We focus on the possession that we're on, whether it's offense or defense, we try to compete the best we can on each possession and try to get back in the game."
With fewer than nine minutes left in the game, Garner sparked a 23-9 scoring streak, bringing Penn State within three, 60-57, with a clutch triple forcing Wisconsin to call a timeout with 1:53 left to play.
"I thought we needed it at that time, I thought it was perfect for the time," Garner said. "I knew once we got going, once the crowd got into it a little bit, we would go on a run. I just knew I had to start something to get us going."
A pair of Garner free throws out of the break drew the Nittany Lions within one, 60-59, as Penn State continued to trade foul shots with the Badgers.
Trailing by one with 15 seconds on the clock, Penn State collected a board off a missed free throw attempt to send the ball the other direction, but a missed Tony Carr 3-point attempt clipped the comeback attempt.
"I thought we had the right matchup and Tony made that decision," Chambers said. "Whatever Tony thought. I am not in his vision, I am on the sideline. I don't know what he saw. But he is a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions, so I am going to trust that decision."
The Nittany Lions certainly won't spend time dwelling on the final possession or the outcome though.
"We're a team that sticks together through thick and thin and we didn't lose the game on that shot," Garner said. "It's a long game, a lot of mistakes from start to finish. We're confident in him [Carr] to make those shots. He didn't make it tonight, but we didn't lose the game on that play. He's fine."
While Chambers noted there's plenty to learn from, Penn State can also take pride in a few positives.
Mike Watkins led all scorers with a career-high 22 points for his second career 20-point outing. He grabbed eight blocks and totaled a Big Ten career-best seven blocks, helping to limit Wisconsin All-American Ethan Happ to a 3-for-12 outing from the field.
"Even though we kept him to nine points, the three assists he made were critical," Chambers said. "He's was in a little bit of foul trouble and again I thought Mike did a really good job on him, but it was our team for the most part that did a really good job on him."
Watkins was one of three Nittany Lions in double figures, alongside Carr (16) and Garner (13). Carr led the team on the boards, setting a Big Ten career mark with nine rebounds against the Badgers.
With Penn State's next Big Ten game scheduled nearly a month from now, the Nittany Lions will get back to work, spending the next three weeks wrapping up the nonconference slate.
"We are going to watch this film," Chambers said. "We are going to dive into Iowa a little bit more and we will have a good film session on Wednesday and try to get better. I didn't think we played our best basketball, and we still gave ourselves a chance to win. Let's give Wisconsin some credit though, but we still gave ourselves a chance. We had the ball, down one with 10 seconds and the ball was in our best player's hands. That is all we can ask for at that stage."