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Penn State Basketball: Comeback Falls Short As Nittany Lions Fall 79-72 To Michigan

by on January 30, 2016 2:40 PM

Madison Square Garden, New York City

It had been 2494 days since Penn State basketball last played in the World's Most Famous Arena. A 69-63 victory over Baylor for the 2009 NIT Title and with it the program's first ever national tournament crown.

That team was many things; gritty, full of fight and a near perfect alchemy of young talent and battle tested veterans. Talor Battle made shots that etched him into program lore, Jamelle Cornley fought in the paint as hard as any player in the nation. Stanley Pringle used his speed and Danny Morrissey added outside shoot to balance the attack.

So by the time that team reached Madison Square Garden there was little it had yet to see and little it had yet to overcome. 

Some 2495 days later Penn State took the court yet again deep in the heart of Manhattan for a chance to relive some of that fateful night when the court shook from busloads of Penn State fans in clad white.

In truth though, that was always going to be a difficult task. The Nittany Lions entered Saturday's contest a team somewhere between the program coach Pat Chambers inherited and the promising future not too far down the road. This team too a mix of veterans and rising potential, but not quite enough of both, especially with a athletic star like Josh Reaves still out recovering from Mono.

Across the court a program in similar shape, but in this case with a bit more talent and a bit more confidence. The Wolverines were a beatable team, but perhaps still a bit too much for the Nittany Lions to handle.

So it was little surprise when Michigan jumped out to a 13-5 lead with 14:50 to go in the first half. And considering Penn State's tenacity in the face of shortcomings, of little surprise when the Nittany Lions managed to tie the game at 13-13 just over two minutes later.

From there it was deep threes from NBA range that helped Michigan turn a tie game into a 12-4 run to make it a 27-17 margin with 7:07 left in the first half. The Wolverines nailing shots from far beyond the NCAA three-point line, often contested, as if the basketball gods simply wanted to laugh at Penn State's attempt to make Saturday's contest interesting.

To the Nittany Lions' credit they clawed to within five with 5:16 remaining in the opening 20 minutes of play, and yet again Michigan answered to make it 32-22 margin with 3:44 remaining.

Of all the things that happened in the closing five minutes of the half it was the final second that was most fitting, a long three from the corner by Zak Irvin that would have made most NBA players blush. With it Michigan took a 38-26 lead into the break.

Penn State shot the ball at a 32-percent clip in the half, but Michigan had an answer every time, a 48-percent mark that was even better as the Wolverines made six of their opening 10 shots from the field.

The second half though was something that may have reminded fans of that 2009 team. In a game where things could have spiraled out of control, they didn't. Penn State fell behind 60-43 with 9:46 to go and things seemingly were seconds away from a blowout.

But then Brandon Taylor hit two jumpers. And then Shep Garner went on his own 5-0 run.

Timeout Michigan.

And then back-to-back threes by Garner and a three by Davis Zemgulis cut it to just five points with 4:48 to go.

"We just have inconsistencies again, in our effort and sometimes our shot selection. You've got a youthful team and when they make mistakes, and they want to play perfect, it hurts that three or four minutes spurt that the other team goes on and you have to call your timeout." Chambers said of the early deficit.

But the problem with a big deficit is the room for error that it leaves to complete the comeback.

So as Payton Banks missed an open three it turned a 64-59 margin into a nine point game in just 38 seconds.

"I cannot say, don't shoot that." Chambers noted of Banks' chance. "I want my guys to shoot with confidence and he shot that ball with confidence."

Taylor finished the night with 24 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-19 from the field while Garner added 22 and six rebounds to his name. Banks pitched in 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Penn State didn't win on Saturday, but in a game that was the first since 2009 in The Garden, a blowout turned late comeback was the kind of thing both teams would have been proud of.

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