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Penn State Basketball: Late Gaffes Doom Nittany Lions In 89-82 Loss To No. 23 Iowa

by on January 16, 2019 11:00 PM

I had a former Penn State staffer text me in the final minutes of the Nittany Lions' eventual 89-82 loss to No. 23 Iowa on Wednesday night.

It read as follows.

"Turnover. Two missed free throws. Give up offensive rebound. 25 foot three. Turnover."

And that's basically all you need to know about Penn State's loss, a victory that should have been and yet wasn't. After going 10-for-10 from the line as a team, Mike Watkins missed three free throws in the final minutes. As Penn State looked to collect a key rebound two players collided and the ball squirted free to Iowa.

Seconds later Jordan Bohannon drilled a three from Altoona to put the Hawkeyes ahead 86-82 with 36 seconds to go. Six seconds later Josh Reaves lost control of the ball, and Iowa found itself headed to the line.

It took roughly 27 seconds, a one point game turning into a five point margin.

All things considered it was one of the crueler ways to lose for a team that has lost so many different ways. Penn State played its best offensive game of the Big Ten season so far, scoring 45 points in opening half while having averaged 58 per game in conference play. The Nittany Lions got 16 points from Josh Reaves and Rasir Bolton while Myles Dread added 14 and Mike Watkins contributed an 11 point, 11 rebound night with four blocks.

it was all there, Penn State even managed to overcome its traditional second half scoring slump, an 8-0 run giving the Nittany Lions a one-point lead with 3:06 to play. Penn State attempted 35 from beyond the arc -the most ever for the program in a single Big Ten game- and made 12. It was all there to be had.

But with 1:48 to go, Bolton turned it over. And the spiral began.

Losses like these are hard to pin the blame on. Penn State played its most complete offensive game in ages. It was good enough on defense -despite giving up 89- to win. Its failure to hit three late free throws ran against the run of play that had been perfect up to that point. A lost offensive rebound was the result of two players colliding. A turnover the result of a player trying his hardest to win.

And yet, a loss is a loss.

It makes me think of something that doesn't often get talked about when it comes to Penn State's attempts at building a better program. The Nittany Lions are essentially fighting to be on a level playing field with teams that are among the best in the nation. Getting to that point doesn't guarantee wins, it doesn't mean Penn State basketball will suddenly win the Big Ten. Will it win more? Yes. Will it have an advantage? No.

So it's fighting really for what happened on Wednesday night. A chance to lose a game where the reasons weren't a gap in talent or a massive gap in ability to execute. Penn State lost -in essence- because of a 30 seconds of misfortunes both forced and unforced. That's how you're supposed to lose, rarely a game comes down to the final possession, both teams playing perfectly the entire way. It's the last mistake, the last blink.

“It’s not one thing, it’s the 65 possessions, 70 possessions that are in a game,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to win more possessions. The game’s a game of mistakes. We have to have less mistakes versus the next opponents.

“It’s always something. We have to earn the right for the ball to bounce our way.”

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