Penn State finally returned to action for the first time since Dec. 30, and the Nittany Lions did not look good early at Purdue on Sunday. But then again, the Boilermakers looked bad themselves in the first half, with both teams living in brick city.
Then the game changed quickly on two shots by Purdue’s Mason Gillis, and the Boilers went on to a 80-72 victory at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
Cory Giger’s quick takes from the game.
**Every game in the Big Ten is difficult, and the Lions are now 0-4 in the league (3-5 overall). They have a decent team and can challenge pretty much anybody in the league on a given day. But 0-4 is 0-4. This team somehow was still on the NCAA Tournament bubble coming into the game, but there’s no reason to talk about that anymore until Penn State can win at least a couple of games. Looking at the upcoming schedule, it’s just tough to find a whole lot of wins in this brutal league.
**Penn State must make shots to win games. A lot of shots. The defense is not good enough, and the team’s lack of size inside makes it very difficult to beat Big Ten teams unless the Lions shoot it well and score a lot of points. PSU was still in the game at the half despite shooting poorly, but that was lucky because Purdue also kept missing. The Lions did make some shots in the final minutes to make things interesting, but they finished shooting just 33 percent overall and 26 percent from 3 (10-for-39).
**Penn State was clearly rusty after not playing in 17 days because of a COVID pause. The Nittany Lions couldn’t buy a 3-pointer early and scored only 7 points in the first 9:52. You’re pretty much never gonna win on the road in the Big Ten with that kind of start. However …
**PSU was only trailing 14-7 at that point, because Purdue was flat awful, too, shooting the ball from 3. The teams combined to go 0-for-22 from 3 to start the game. Then Penn State hit a few 3s, and with Purdue still struggling, the Lions somehow found themselves leading late in the half, 32-30 in the closing seconds.
**The biggest play of the game occurred during the final sequence of the first half. Penn State played good defense, Purdue got sloppy with the ball, and the Lions nearly got a steal. Instead, Purdue maintained control, threw a pass to the right baseline and got a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Mason Gillis for a 33-32 lead. It was just one shot, and it was still only a one-point game, but a shot like that can provide a huge spark mentally, as it allowed Purdue’s players to walk off the court with a lead despite playing a poor first half.
**Purdue came out of the locker room on fire in the second half and took control by scoring the first 10 points. Gillis, who hit the 3 to end the first half, buried another in the opening seconds of the second half. Brandon Newman capped the 10-0 run with a 3 for a 43-32 lead with 17:09 to go. Purdue stretched the lead as high as 16 (59-43), but PSU stormed back and pulled within four (76-72) in the closing seconds. The Lions played good pressure defense during the stretch, but the deficit was too big, and Purdue made its free throws to hold on.