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5 Takeaways from Penn State’s Loss to No. 12 Texas A&M

Penn State picked up its first loss of the season following an admirable 89-77 effort in a game against No. 12 Texas A&M that was far closer than the final score might imply. The Nittany Lions are back in action Friday and will look to bounce back into the win column after the first defeat of the Mike Rhoades era.

Interior Questions: Penn State has had issues on the interior for longer than Mike Rhoades has been in State College and Thursday’s loss was the latest iteration of how important a big man is in today’s game. Texas A&M managed 23 second-chance points, was +13 on the glass and scored 56 points in the paint. Qudus Wahab has been Penn State’s best option on the interior this season but four personal fouls – three in the second half – didn’t help the cause any. A solution to this problem might not exist, but if it does it will likely come down to a group effort in the paint. Penn State didn’t have an answer on the inside and it made a white-hot streak of 11-straight made shots seem pointless in the game’s final minutes. This maybe doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially against a team like Texas A&M, but now there’s data to back up the theory this would be an issue for this team.

Toughness Established: All things considered Penn State entered Thursday’s game knowing that it wasn’t the better team on paper and did not seem very phased by this fact. This group might still be playing together for the first time but it has plenty of veterans who have been there and done that. This was evident in the second half in particular as Penn State chipped away at A&M’s lead and never let the Aggies feel comfortable for really any portion of the second half. Toughness is something that can come and go over the course of a long season, but this was a good first test and Penn State answered. Winning in the Big Ten is as much about surviving the gut punches as it is landing them.

Offensive Punch: Penn State is tenacious on defense but there have been some questions of how many players were going to be able to provide the Nittany Lions with reliable offensive firepower. As Texas A&M pulled away at various moments in this game Penn State managed to muster up answers and shot a blistering 66.7% from the field in the second half. Safe to assume that won’t be the norm moving forward, but the Nittany Lions were able to find offensive success when they needed it against a quality opponent. A 6-for-19 clip from beyond the arc wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either. Seven different players scored five or more points.

Does It Again: Mike Rhoades had to talk Kanye Clary into sticking around this offseason and both parties are glad that he did. So far this season there’s a pretty easy argument to be made that Clary has been Penn State’s best player and could round out into being one of the Big Ten’s most improved. After struggling from the field last time out, Clary went 8-for-14 from the field for 19 points [15 of those in the second half] and paired nicely with Ace Baldwin over 33 minutes of action. Baldwin hasn’t quite found his offensive touch the same way Clary has, but this duo is a great building block for Penn State to lean on all year long. Full marks for the confidence and general effiecncy Clary has had so far though.

Puff It Up: Puff Johnson has been a crucial addition to Penn State’s roster coming off of an injury and his 15 points on Thursday were crucial for keeping Penn State in the game with 12 first half points. Johnson was held silent in the second half scoring just three points but he continues to find more and more of role in this offense now that he’s back in the rotation. Johnson continues to come off the bench and that might end up being the best place for him to make an impact if Clary and Baldwin need a breather. Johnson giving the Nittany Lions’ a second-unit leader will likely be the difference in more than a few games this season.