Penn State Basketball lost its first game of the season to Virginia Tech 61-59 in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic Friday afternoon in what was a defensive game from start to finish.
This game was the most difficult test according, to Ken Pom rankings, for the Nittany Lions on the young season.
Virginia Tech entered ranked No. 26 in the Ken Pom, and even received 13 votes in the AP poll. This was the first team that Penn State Basketball didn’t have the clear talent advantage over.
How it Happened:
The Nittany Lions started off ice cold from the field and looked sloppy with 3 turnovers as the Hokies sprinted out to a 12-6 lead at the first TV timeout with 13:35 to go in the 1st half.
Kebba Njie made an early appearance in this one as the Shrewsberry detected some struggles from Caleb Dorsey early with the larger Virginia Tech lineup who made an effort to get the ball in the post.
Penn State Basketball’s lack of size on defense continued to be an issue as Virginia Tech continually went inside for 4 straight buckets.
It became clearer that Virginia Tech realized that they couldn’t be stopped in the paint. Combine that with poor shooting (25%) for the Nittany Lions and the Hokies had a 20-6 lead with 11:04 to go in the 1st half.
Virginia Tech pushed their lead to 25-9 before Penn State finally started to get going offensively. The Nittany Lions went on a 10-2 run over the next 2:28 to cut the lead to 27-19 thanks to some three-point shots finally falling.
The positive momentum was short lived as Virginia Tech went on a 8-2 run of their own to push the lead back up to 35-21 with 3:10 to go in the 1st half. Penn State finished the half on an 8-2 run and found themselves down 37-29 at the break.
Andrew Funk had 13 of the Nittany Lions 29 after having a rather quiet afternoon against Furman. It was the lowest scoring first half for Penn State on the season as well as the first time they have been trailing heading into the locker room.
Both teams struggled from the field to start the 2nd half and Virginia Tech maintained their 8-point lead at 44-36 with 11:38 to go in the game despite going over 4 minutes without converting a field goal. Evan Mahaffey had one of his best stretches of the season grabbing 3 rebounds and scoring a putback. Mahaffey also gave Penn State somewhat of a presence on the defensive end to slow down the Virginia Tech big men.
Penn State Basketball battled back to cut the lead to 51-49 thanks to some three pointers by Funk and Dread with under 7 minutes to go. After trading some baskets and some tough layups by both Evan Mahaffey and Jalen Pickett, the Nittany Lions found themselves down 55-53 going into the TV timeout with 2:48 to go. A defensive lapse and a quick pass gave the Hokies a 4 point lead out of the break which was followed by an offensive foul on Evan Mahaffey on the other end.
Virginia Tech once again went inside to take a 6-point lead. Myles Dread tried to keep the Nittany Lions in it with a 3 but the Hokies went right back inside to push it back to a 5-point lead with 1 minute to play. After a Penn State timeout, Andrew Funk took an extremely deep 3 to cut the lead to 2 with 41 seconds to play. A Virginia Tech miss led to Penn State with an opportunity to tie or win the game with 4.7 seconds to play and Micah Shrewsberry took a timeout to draw something up.
Virginia Tech cut off any openings around the 3 point line and Penn State was forced to get the ball to Winter in the backcourt where he drove and lost the ball out of bounds with 1.1 seconds to go. If Winter hadn’t lost control there was a possibility of Lundy cutting to the rim for the tie.
Andrew Funk had a bounce back performance and probably his best of the season against the Hokies scoring 21 on 5-11 shooting from deep. Evan Mahaffey seemed to be the best option against a bigger lineup and that will be something to evaluate as this team heads into Big 10 play. Ultimately Penn State just didn’t shoot well enough throughout the entirety of the game finishing 41.1% from the field and 36.7% from three. Penn State played relatively well defensively and found a way to battle back in the 2nd half but losing the turnover battle 14-9 and lack of interior defense is ultimately what did them in.
Penn State will face the loser of Colorado State and the University of Charleston on Sunday at 6 PM.