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Rhoades: Penn State Must Be a ‘Mentally Tough Program’ Moving Forward

Image by Penn State Athletics: Mike Rhoades

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— Penn State first-year coach Mike Rhoades was forward when addressing the status of his team following Saturday night’s come-from-behind loss to Big Ten foe Minnesota.

Penn State squandered a 16-point second half lead en route to falling to Minnesota 83-74.

PSU dropped to 9-11 overall and 3-6 in conference play, now having lost back-to-back games and 11 of its last 15 after starting the season with five straight wins.

With Penn State nearly having a complete roster turnover from last season, Rhoades acknowledged the team has room to grow, as does he.

“We only did it for 20 minutes. We didn’t do it for 40,” Rhoades said postgame. “It was a very disappointing second half. I thought in the first half, that was some of the best basketball we’ve played (all season). We played the right way. We played with great flow and great movement.

“In the second half, we just got very frustrated right away and it just really put us in the mud. It’s on me. It’s on all of us to understand this. We’re not a consistent basketball team, and you saw that today.”

Rhoades recognized multiple issues on the court Penn State will have to fix defensively, all while battling the growing pains of continuously getting adjusted to one another.

Penn State, after scoring the opening points of the second half to lead 47-31, gave up a 21-5 run for Minnesota to tie the game at 52 with 14:08 to go.

Minnesota then took the lead on two free throws by Elijah Andrews 46 seconds later and never lost the advantage the rest of the way.

Penn State suffered its fourth loss of the season after holding the lead at halftime and fell to 4-6 in games decided by 10 or fewer points.

“We were out of position,” Rhoades said. “In the first half, we honored the scouting report very well. They took tough shots and we defended it. We gave up a couple of threes up early but I thought around the basket we made them miss and shrunk the court when they were trying to do some isolations.

“Second half, that went out the window, and that’s very frustrating as a coach. We don’t have enough defensive carryover as the game goes on, especially when teams make adjustments.”

Minnesota capitalized on Penn State’s miscommunication with six offensive rebounds and paired them with a 15-for-16 mark at the free throw line in the final 20 minutes to stay in front.

“I felt as though we didn’t play our style of play on defense and we just let our foot off the gas,” guard Ace Baldwin Jr. said. “We gave up 52 points in the second half. That’s not us. We let guys get wide-open shots. We weren’t talking. We just weren’t being us.”

Offensively, Penn State shot 53 percent from the floor with 11 assists on 18 made field goals in the first half. A 22-2 run gave Penn State a 45-31 halftime lead.

Penn State then produced just a 35 percent clip with three assists in the second half. PSU was also held without a field goal for two combined stretches of nearly eight total minutes.

This included a lull of 2:41 after Penn State tied the game at 70 with just under three minutes left. Minnesota pulled away with two 3-point plays and converting at the free throw line.

Rhoades said the mental aspect of the game will be crucial for the Penn State over the final 11 regular season games, and that will begin Wednesday at Rutgers.

“I wish I could tell you it happens overnight, but it doesn’t,” Rhoades said. “It’s how you attack the weight room, how you attack conditioning, getting extra shots up, watching tape, it all adds up. That builds confidence and mental toughness, and we have to become a mentally tough program if we want to be successful.”

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