Penn State basketball blew a 19-point second-half lead, failing to make a field goal in the final 9:16 in its 59-56 loss to Rutgers Sunday night. Penn State had opportunities to win a critical game. Instead, it missed its last eleven shots, allowing Rutgers to chip away and, eventually, take the W. Penn State’s collapse was a big reason many feel it doesn’t deserve an NCAA Tournament bid. The team allowed Rutgers’ biggest comeback since 1996. Here are takeaways from this season’s most brutal setback.
DIED BY THE 3
Penn State basketball shot 8-of-29 from the 3-point line Sunday. Many of these were contested and had no real chance of going in the basket. Seth Lundy, who came into the game leading the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage, went 1 for 16 from the floor and 0 for 11 from deep. Andrew Funk went 1-for-7 on 3-pointers. Cam Wynter was the only person making 3s somewhat consistently. He led Penn State with 16 points and went 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. On most nights, Penn State could only win one way against a team like Rutgers, which had a size advantage: hitting its 3-point shots. It failed to do so Sunday.
“We had opportunities,” Coach Micah Shrewsberry said in his postgame press conference, “Seth goes 0-for-11 from 3, Funk goes 1-for-7, Myles (Dread) goes 0-for-1. That’s three of your better shooters right there that (went) 1-for-19, right, and they’re shooting open shots. So, hats off to (Rutgers). We needed to adjust and go to something different. It’s like I said, I got outcoached.”
BAD SHOT SELECTION
Penn State basketball kept trying to shoot 3-pointers for the knockout blow, even in the first half after it built a 26-9 lead. Coach Micah Shrewsberry said after the game that the team needed to get “singles,” meaning looking for easy baskets, staying aggressive and getting Rutgers into the bonus instead of trying to shoot Rutgers out of the gym.
There were easy basket opportunities for easy baskets for big man Kebba Njie, but Penn State wanted to swing out and make the next pass to attempt the corner 3 instead of looking for the layup.
“I felt like we went for the homerun way too many times,” Shrewsberry said. “Way too many times instead of just being simple.”
As he admitted in his postgame press conference, Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell got the best of Shrewsberry Sunday.
“I thought Steve Pikiell completely outcoached me, and he coached circles around me tonight,” Shrewsberry said. “We got outcoached, and I have to put our guys in a better position to be successful if we want to win a game like this.
This was because Shrewsberry didn’t make in-game adjustments as his opponent did. Jalen Pickett looked human, and Rutgers didn’t allow Pickett to dominate. He took a grand total of zero shots in the second half. Rutgers doubled and triple-teamed Pickett and Penn State continued to miss low-percentage shots. Furthermore, Pikiell got Derrick Simpson (16 points), Caleb McDonnell (13 points), and Cam Spencer (12 points) better looks by getting better ball movement. As Penn State started struggling on offense, the team’s spirit went down, leading to defensive breakdowns, which is how Rutgers got back in the game.
THE CROWD WAS THERE, BUT…
Penn State had a great turnout Sunday with the Wear White game, and the team had a tremendous opportunity to make the crowd happy by winning this huge game. Instead, the team quite frankly choked. I saw a crowd waiting to explode Sunday, but at the same time, I sensed that it felt the disappointment coming as early as the end of the first half when Rutgers went on a 7-0 run to go into halftime down 10. Of the 12,082 fans in attendance, roughly 40 were Rutgers students in a little section that was louder than the Penn State fans by the end of the game. They told them about it by doing the “Chop” chant over the Penn State alma mater.
ALL IN ALL
This loss isn’t a death blow to its NCAA Tournament bid, but it didn’t help. Wednesday’s game at Northwestern wouldn’t have been a must-win if Penn State beat Rutgers. It is now.
All Shrewsberry and Penn State can do is move forward.
“The season’s not over,” Shrewsberry said. “We have a game on Wednesday. If this was the last game of our season, if they had to take their jersey off and go home after tonight, they’d I’d probably feel a little bit different. But we have a lot of games left. We have a lot of games left to play.”