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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Fall 76-68 To No. 5 Michigan State

by on January 31, 2018 8:55 PM

Penn State basketball has something of a long history of being a thorn in Michigan State's side.

It hasn't always resulted in victories, but the Spartans have had their fair share of scares against the Nittany Lions over the years. As recently as last season Penn State soundly defeated Michigan State at the Palestra, a reminder not to be taken lightly.

And again on Wednesday night Penn State played the part of the upstarts trying to beat the nation's No.5 ranked team on the road.

For 20 minutes that was what happened. Tony Carr rolled in 14 points as the Nittany Lions played as good of a defensive half as you could reasonably ask for. The Spartans left the court frustrated, turning the ball over regularly and struggling to slow down a Penn State offense not short on confidence.

By the break it was 30-24 in favor of the Nittany Lions. A blocked shot by Nazeer Bostick a fitting conclusion to a half Penn State had soundly won.

Early in the second half Penn State continued that style of play and worked out to a 12-point lad to show for it. But Michigan State would respond, an 8-0 run cutting it to just a four point lead. Mike Watkins racking up fouls and finding himself headed to the bench with four to his name midway through the second half.

From there Penn State lost its footing. Tony Carr would end the game with 24 attempted shots, the ninth time this season he has taken 20 or more, the Nittany Lions winning just twice when that occurs. On the defensive end Penn State struggled without Watkins and the Nittany Lions looked rudderless on offensive end without a big man to anchor them. Carr finished with 28 points (a point shy of Talor Battle's mark during the 2009 upset) six rebounds and seven assists. Lamar Stevens' 18 points the only other Penn State player in double figures. Watkins just eight points on six shots.

In the end, the fact Michigan State erased a double-digit lead at home was hardly a surprise no matter who the opponent. So Penn State finding itself in a close game was not entirely the fault of the Nittany Lions.

But facing crucial junctures, and still very much in the game and still very much capable of winning, Penn State looked unsure and without Watkins on the floor, looked limited and lacking many legitimate offensive options.

Ultimately, it says something about the progress Penn State has made that a loss to the No.5 team on the road can be perceived as a missed opportunity within its grasp. Equally true, it says something about the progress the program has struggled to make over the past 12-24 months that the nature of the loss was not terribly surprising. Some of that is on the players, some of it on the coaches. In either case what the Nittany Lions seem capable of and what they are actually doing are two very different things.

Penn State will return home to face Iowa this weekend and a Hawkeyes team the Nittany Lions have already beaten once this year. But even if Penn State finds itself picking up a sixth Big Ten victory, it will undoubtedly come with the same hollow feeling many of the previous five brought with them.

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