The bubble is just about ready to pop for Penn State Basketball’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Nittany Lions lost their 4th straight game falling to Maryland 74-68 on Saturday. With 6 games remaining the team would need to finish 5-1 down the stretch and win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament to make the dance.
With the way this team has been playing, that is more of a dream than a reality.
Penn State Basketball takeaways from the game, and what is next
We have seen this glaring weakness the last few games and it exposed itself again on Saturday.
Penn State Basketball was in a 3-point game with the ball and about 6 minutes remaining before giving up a 9-0 run and quickly finding themselves down 64-52 in a blink of an eye.
The same thing happened late against Wisconsin where the Nittany Lions were leading by three late but seemingly ran out of gas in overtime. The difference defensively between halves for this team has been stark this season.
Most teams do typically score at a higher clip in the 2nd half, but what has been alarming for Penn State Basketball is just how efficient opponents get in the final 8 minutes of games.
A lot of this can be traced back to the games early in the season where the starters were left in far too long in blowouts.
There is no reason that Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy should be on the floor in a 25-point game after the under 8 timeout against a mid-major team. The same can be said when the Nittany Lions were blowing out Michigan at home a few weeks ago and the starters remained in until the final minute of play.
The Wolverines on the other hand, took out their star Hunter Dickinson early in the 2nd half when the game was deemed decided.
These coaching decisions seem small in the moment, but often rear ugly late in the season after going through a physical Big Ten schedule. Not only does it hurt the team now, but also doesn’t give young players a chance to get real game minutes and slows their development.
So, for that reason it’s hard to really blame a lot of the key contributors down the stretch because the three leading scorers all average at least 30 minutes per game this season.
Penn State Basketball entered Saturday’s game No. 1 in the country with just 8.7 turnovers per game. That mark was passed in the 1st half as the Nittany Lions had trouble holding onto the ball all game.
Besides finishing with a total 13 turnovers, it was more the timing of the giveaways. Penn State found a way to battle back in this game and were competitive late before Myles Dread gained an offensive foul, eventually leading to a 9-0 run that ended the game.
This isn’t just on Dread though; the entire team was sloppy throughout and had plenty of other instances where a turnover wasn’t recorded in the stat sheet but the play still stalled an offensive possession.
Kanye Clary Shines
We have seen it before this year where a freshman is given an opportunity and shows flashes of brilliance when he finally gets a chance to play significant minutes.
Evan Mahaffey was the first to do so earlier in conference play, providing a defensive spark off the bench when Penn State was struggling in the front court.
Clary had his breakout game as a Nittany Lion on Saturday tallying a team high 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting in just 23 minutes. The true freshman showed his ability to quickly get to the rim off the dribble and even hit a three pointer late in the game. Clary averaged just 2.2 points per game entering the day, often finding himself deep in the rotation behind Pickett, Funk, and Wynter.
At this point he should start above Wynter scored 0 points on three shots in 18 minutes against the Terrapins.
Wynter hasn’t been reliable from outside down the stretch of the season and Clary has looked better at getting to the rim so I am not really sure what the upside of starting the senior is at this point. Getting guys like Clary, Mahaffey and Njie as many minutes as possible down the stretch will be crucial in how competitive this team is next year. With NCAA tournament hopes dwindling, this needs to be more of a focus as we head into March.
What’s Next for Penn State Basketball?
Penn State will return home to the Bryce Jordan Center Tuesday February 14th to take on Illinois 16-7 (7-5).
The Nittany Lions beat the Illini 74-59 in Champaign back on December 10th, but both teams are heading in completely different directions entering this matchup.
Illinois enters ranked #25 in the NET and will be another Quad 1 opportunity for Penn State. The game can be watched live at 7:00 pm Et on ESPNU.