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A Game of Runs as Penn State Men’s Basketball Falls 79-69 to Michigan

The saying that basketball “is a game of runs” could not have been any more true on Wednesday evening as Penn State fell 79-69 to Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Nittany Lions dropped to 2-2 in Big Ten play and 11-4 overall as the brunt of the conference schedule begins at the turn of the new year.

While the game would see the lead change just six times over the course of regulation it was scoring spurts by both teams that would dictate the story in both halves of play. Michigan made three straight baskets and a handful of free throws to turn a 8-7 Penn State lead into a 20-10 Wolverine advantage with 12:17 to go in the first half. A 7-2 run later in the half helped balloon the Wolverines’ lead to 40-29 with 2:35 in the half before heading to the locker room ahead 42-34 after a half court shot by Penn State’s Evan Mahaffey fell, cutting into the once 11-point Michigan lead.

The second half was even more a series of runs as both teams traded scoring punches. Michigan pushed back out to an 11-point lead with 18:51 to go in regulation before Penn State responded in kind with an 11-0 run to erase the deficit. Jalen Pickett scored six of his 26 points (nine rebounds, four assists) over that span, tying the game with a layup with 15:06 to go. All told, Penn State’s 11-0 run took place in just over three minutes of play.

But Michigan, coming off a blowout win over Maryland, flexed its muscles again going on an 11-0 run of its own as four different Wolverines scored in that span, undoing all of Penn State’s offensive efforts just moments earlier. Penn State and Michigan traded baskets following the run but the Wolverines still found themselves ahead by 14 with 8:25 to go.

Down but not yet out, a series of baskets by Seth Lundy, Camren Wynter and Andrew Funk saw Michigan’s 14-point lead turned back into a three-point deficit. Penn State trailed by just three with 2:17 to go over the course of a six minute, 15-4 scoring run but could not find the bottom of the basket the rest of the way. In total, the Nittany Lions and Wolverines combined for three different major double-digit scoring spurts as the game swung back and forth.

The game in the eyes of Penn State was a bit of what one might have expected in a matchup against Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson, who scored 17 points and was mostly unchallenged in the paint against a Penn State team with no real answer to a roster lacking true size and experience. Four different Michigan players reached double-figure scoring, while Seth Lundy’s 16 points marked the only other Penn State player to have matched Pickett’s double-digit efforts. The Nittany Lions’ streaky shooting, and 9-for-28 night from beyond the arc did not pair well against a Wolverine team that scored 28 points in the paint and shot a much more effective 8-for-19 from three.

Despite the size issues, Penn State was just -2 on the glass, but the usually turnover-free Nittany Lions coughed up the ball eight times en route to 15 Michigan points off of those turnovers.

Penn State will now travel to Philadelphia on Sunday to face No. 1 Purdue at the Palestra. The Boilermakers recently lost to Rutgers and are unlikely to be the nation’s top ranked team next week when the updated rankings are released. Nevertheless, Penn State will take on another talented big man in Zach Edey, a force to be reckoned with not unlike that of Dickinson. The Nittany Lions will hope that their threes fall at a higher clip come Sunday afternoon to combat his interior talents.