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Penn State Men’s Basketball: Nittany Lions Fall to No. 1 Purdue

Penn State men’s basketball fell 80-60 to No. 1 Purdue on the road Wednesday night in the kind of game that reestablished everything we already knew about both teams.

For Penn State, it was that the Nittany Lions lack any size and accompanying skillsets to really contend with a 7-foot-4 future NBA draft choice in big man Zach Edey. It also furthered an ongoing statistical trend that Penn State — like most teams — shoots the ball better at home than on the road [44% from the field on Wednesday night]. There was nothing inherently unexpected about this discovery but it was no less evident as the minutes ticked along. Purdue in particular boasts a team almost specifically designed to turn teams like Penn State into fine powder and did exactly that for the better part of the second half, coupling the threat of Edey with confidence from his supporting cast.

To its credit in the first half, Penn State did all of the requisite things that make you raise an eyebrow just enough to keep the TV on. Down 35-29 at the break, Penn State trailed by just enough that an upset seemed possible, but also by just enough that any sizable Purdue run would quickly erase any upset ambitions.

Much like they did in the first meeting between these two teams this season, the Boilermakers opened up the second half on that sizable run, this time a 21-2 thumping over the span of 5:15 that took all the wind out of the Nittany Lions’ sails. Penn State made just its third shot of the half with 10:33 to go, and by then the Boilermakers were already ahead by 22.

It is true that Penn State could have played better. This is generally accurate for any team that loses by 20. The Nittany Lions missed shots they normally make, but they were the lesser team at the outset. The fortunate thing for Penn State is that a now 5-6 record in Big Ten play is a respectable opening half of the year in a league which has been led by Purdue and then something of a feeding frenzy among the rest of the conference. With a relatively favorable slate of games in the second half of the year, Wednesday night’s drubbing doesn’t need to be much more than the unavoidable moments that come over the course of a long season for 95% of the college basketball world. Penn State basketball’s ongoing quest to overcome mediocrity isn’t derailed by losing to a very, very good team on the road; if anything it just accentuated the strengths and weaknesses of both teams and let them carry on toward their respective trajectories.

Seth Lundy continued his strong season with an 18-point outing to go with six rebounds, while Jalen Pickett chipped in a quiet 12 points and seven assists. Michael Henn, Penn State’s big man transfer turned recent starter, continued his strong run of play with 11 points but it is likely not a good sign when he shoots as many threes as sharpshooter Andrew Funk (six) and is the only one to make any (Henn had three makes from deep).

Elsewhere the Boilermakers managed 39 points from the bench, getting 29 from Mason Gillis in the kind of performance that reminds one that having the likes of Edey can impact the game simply with him standing on the court in a moderately menacing way. For his part, the big man added 18 points to his season total while Penn State managed just 15 points off the bench, getting seven of those from energy guru Evan Mahaffey.

Penn State returns home for a Sunday meeting against Nebraska having lost back-to-back Big Ten games just once this year.