BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The calm, confident look on Race Thompson’s face as he drilled a 3-pointer in the opening minute of Indiana’s 74-57 rout of Penn State said all that was necessary: this was going to be a long night for the Nittany Lions.
Whether it was the memory of what had happened in University Park or the Hoosiers’ response to their flat performance Sunday against Michigan, Indiana came out ready for Penn State, and the Nittany Lions never responded. Penn State sank just five shots from the field in the first half, falling behind by 29 points and absorbing its sixth straight loss at Assembly Hall and third straight defeat of 2022.
“They played great,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said of the Hoosiers. “They were a hungry team, they were a gritty team and they were a tougher team. That’s what you saw at the start of the game, and that’s what you saw at the end of the game. They were ready to go from the start, and they dominated us from start to finish.”
Three weeks after beating the Hoosiers at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State looked confused and helpless offensively the second time around. The Nittany Lions (8-9, 3-6) failed to score on their first nine possessions, allowing the Hoosiers (15-5, 6-4) to build a 12-0 lead that they would never lose.
In stark contrast to the 4-for-17 performance that the Hoosiers put up from behind the arc in University Park, Indiana sank its first six from deep and ended up 10-for-13 from the perimeter. Xavier Johnson did the most damage with 19 points, hitting all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.
“I’ve never told us not to shoot 3’s, and we’ve got to shoot them when we’re open,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “I felt Parker (Stewart), Miller (Kopp), X, everyone who shot them did a great job knocking them down. I hope we continue to do that because we need the 3-ball. We can’t shoot 4-for-17 like we did (the first time).”
To Shrewsberry, that was a big part of the difference, and the Nittany Lions didn’t help matters by regularly leaving Indiana shooters open behind the arc. Thompson’s 3-pointer on the Hoosiers’ second possession came without a Penn State jersey anywhere near him, which would repeat itself far too often.
“We didn’t have the same presence defensively,” Shrewsberry said. “People are going to make shots at home, but they were making shots that were uncontested and were getting whatever they wanted offensively. We weren’t in their area code. If we impact the ball a little bit, maybe the shots are tougher, but what they did was too easy.
“They’ve been playing like this at home; this is what they do. They really shut people down; Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and Race are dominant at the rim, which allows those guards to get up pressure you a lot more, and that’s what they did. It totally took us out of what we wanted to do, and once it got going like that, we were a little bit shell-shocked.”
The Nittany Lions outscored the Hoosiers in the second half behind Jalen Pickett (14 points) and Myles Dread (nine points, all in the second half) combining to go 7-for-12 from the perimeter in the final 20 minutes, but Shrewsberry wasn’t interested in reading too much into that. For one, it was a case of too little, too late, and for another, he knew it was in part because Indiana got comfortable with a 29-point lead and backed off in the second half.
“We played a little bit better, but we should have played that way 20 minutes before,” he said. “We should have played at 8:30 instead of starting at 9:30, but I felt like (Indiana) took a step back. They weren’t playing with the same fire or the same effort, so it allowed us to score a little bit more. If we want to hang our hat on that, we should have started the game at 8:30 instead of 9:30.”
The Nittany Lions will have to start at 7 p.m. when they return to the floor Monday against Iowa. At 3-6 in the Big Ten, Penn State has to get some wins on the board or face the dreaded play-in game at the Big Ten tournament, and efforts like Wednesday night aren’t going to help.
“When guys are holding you, you’ve got to run through it,” Shrewsberry said. “They didn’t let us off the ball screens; they pressured us, and we couldn’t get off the ball screens. Our guards weren’t very good in setting up and coming off of them. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and be a tougher team.”