UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In a second consecutive gritty
comeback effort, Penn State men's basketball showcased its toughness once again
Wednesday evening. Battling back from behind, the Nittany Lions ultimately came
up short though, in a 78-75 loss to Indiana at the final buzzer.
As head coach Patrick Chambers entered the postgame media room, he noted that it was Penn State who hurt Penn State in the bitter loss, one that lacked execution of the the little things.
Entering the matchup, Penn State had hit 76 percent of its free throw attempts on the year, a mark which ranked 21st in the Division I standings and third in the conference.
Among those little things was a bit of an off night from the charity stripe for the Nittany Lions.
Those foul shooting woes did disappear in the final seconds of the game though, as Penn State's top free throw man freshman Lamar Stevens, sank a pair of crucial attempts to tie the score, 75-75 with four second left in the game, sending the crowd of 7,818 into hysteria.
As fellow freshman Tony Carr had done just one game prior, there was nothing but confidence in his mind when Stevens stepped up to the line.
"I told him to just trust in himself and to shoot the same shot, don't put any extra pressure on yourself, just go up there and go through the same routine and just knock them down," Carr said.
In a roller coaster evening at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions shot out to a nearly double digit lead early in the game before the Hoosiers came storming back.
Penn State opened the game with all six points of its scoring coming from junior Julian Moore before an emphatic dunk from Stevens lifted the Nittany Lions ahead by one, 8-7. Following the Stevens jam, Penn State used a 7-1 run to pull ahead by as many as seven, 15-8 with 12:47 remaining in the first half.
The Hoosiers quickly found their way back within one twice more though, answering back with a 9-3 stretch to make it 18-17. Penn State leading shot blocker and rebounder Mike Watkins also picked up a pair of fouls in the streak.
As the fouls continued to pile up for the Nittany Lions in the first half, Indiana slid ahead by two before junior Shep Garner put away a 3-pointer to give Penn State the edge, 21-20.
Penn State could not sustain its momentum though, trading points until Indiana took off with the lead for good, leading 44-37 by halftime before stretching the lead to double figures nearly seven minutes into the second half.
As expected, Penn State regrouped and responded in the second half, wiping away a 14-point Indiana lead with a signature second-half effort.
Staring down a double-digit deficit is no new challenge for the Nittany Lions, as a mere days earlier Penn State used a second-half charge to rally from behind by as many as 14 before topping then-No. 24 Minnesota 52-50.
"We have been there before being down double-digits in games and we know we have what it takes to fight back and get back into the game so we rely on our defense and rebounding and making them turn the ball over a little bit and we got back in it," Garner said.
Garner, who was limited to just three points in the opening frame, came alive in the second half, scoring 12 points including a 3-for-4 mark from 3-point range to finish second on the team with 15 points.
Perhaps no triple was bigger than his final one of the night, where he calmly pulled up past a diving Blackmon to knock down a 3-pointer to lift Penn State within two, 75-73 with 39 seconds on the clock.
Like a popped balloon, the energy and enthusiasm of yet another comeback from down by 10+ was quickly vanquished, as Indiana scrambled to get off a long contested 3-pointer for the win at the final blare of the horn.
"It is very tough especially when you lose on a shot like that," Carr said. "You fight so hard to get back into the game and you just give all your effort and then you lose on a heartbreaking shot like that."
Despite the highs, the lows, the little things and even the deficits, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers was nothing short of proud of his team postgame.
"They showed some guts, they responded in huddles and they didn't quit battling," Chambers said. "It was a physical and tough game but overall I think that the two teams played as tough as I have seen all year."
All part of the Penn State process this year, the Nittany Lions will have to quickly reset and turn their attention toward their second of three ranked opponents in its current four-game stretch.
"Tomorrow we will watch film, get some shooting in and then we will start preparing for Purdue," Chambers said. "This is a long season, a process, so we cannot dwell on this we will just have to keep moving forward."
Penn State travels to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers Saturday, Jan. 21 at noon ET in West Lafayette, Indiana.