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Penn State Basketball: Cold Second Half Dooms Nittany Lions 77-68 at Iowa

by on February 29, 2020 3:00 PM

Penn State fell in Iowa City 77-68 to the Hawkeyes on Saturday afternoon in a game that was equal parts closer than the final score and not quite as close as the final score might indicate.

The Nittany Lions got offense early and often from Seth Lundy who ended the day with 16 attempts from the field and five makes from beyond the arc to the tune of 19 points. Lamar Stevens chipped in 20 of his own to match his 10 rebounds and Myles Dread's late three got his total to 11 despite an otherwise quiet afternoon. Myreon Jones also made his return following a six-game absence but managed just four points in his return debut.

All the same Penn State found itself trailing just 35-34 at the break, but a quick 7-0 Hawkeyes run to open the second half forced a Nittany Lion timeout down 42-34. The game was never really closer, the Hawkeyes rolling out to a 17-point lead as Luka Garza pounded away in the paint for 25 points, 17 rebounds and timely three-point shooting from his teammates that spread out a Nittany Lion defense trying to hang on for dear life.

Penn State would cut the game to single digits in the final minutes, but Iowa had too many answers and the Nittany Lions had too little firepower, shooting 37% from the floor, and a far lower reading on the gas tank.

The loss itself was not terribly surprising. Iowa nearly won the first meeting at the Palestra and has been a difficult team to beat at home, the Hawkeyes leading the nation in wins over ranked teams with seven. The Nittany Lions have not shot the ball well as of late, and have not put a full 40 minute effort on the floor in several games. Garza is also a difficult matchup for nearly any team but has given the Nittany Lions trouble in particular this season. All told Penn State is now 21-8 on the year with Michigan State due to visit the Jordan Center on Tuesday.

There are two larger thoughts that come in the wake of Saturday's loss though.

The first: it is fair to wonder if the Nittany Lions peaked too soon. Lamar Stevens looks tired and the Nittany Lions' hot midseason shooting also feels like a thing of the past. Penn State has struggled to find the basket in the second half of back-to-back games and has resorted more to Stevens-ball than the diversified attack that helped lead Penn State to an eight-game win streak.

Equally true, one might consider the general perils of playing the Big Ten. In the past a trip to Iowa was hardly considered a potential victory, or even a place where winning was even considered for most Penn State teams. The Nittany Lions' surge into Big Ten relevance didn't grant them the right to suddenly win every game as much as it has afforded them the right to feel like they have a chance. Maryland and Michigan State will play on Saturday night with Big Ten title implications on the line despite both teams having their own fair share of scares and losses. Two program head and shoulders above Penn State and yet not much different when it comes to avoiding the ups and downs of a long season. Nobody is perfect, and Penn State is no exception.

Of course one would be fair to question what is left in the tank and if midseason success has taken the energy out of a Sweet 16 hopeful that could find itself just as easily on the wrong end of a Round 1 contest.

In reality all anyone can do is speculate, and for all of the groans that might be coming from Central PA on a Saturday afternoon there is good news buried inside of some of these Penn State losses.

The Nittany Lions aren't shooting the ball well. And that can change in an instant.

They're just hoping it changes in time.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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