UNIVERSITY PARK — For brief flashes, Penn State’s offensive potential was on display.
Brandon Taylor took over in the low post, backing down smaller Wisconsin guards and finishing on the block. John Johnson attacked the basket without hesitation, showing off his scoring ability. Ross Travis spun and cut into the lane, hitting tough shots in the paint.
But for the majority of Sunday’s game, the Nittany Lions’ flawed reality was revealed once again. Penn State relied on D.J. Newbill to make something happen each time down the floor, but his game-high 23 points on 10-for-23 shooting wasn’t enough in a 71-66 loss to No. 14 Wisconsin at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“You get excited, you’re like, ‘OK, finally,’” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of those brief moments when everything clicked. “We’re calling the right offense, doing the right things, getting the ball in the right hands, getting some production, taking some pressure off D.J. You just need more consistency.”
The inconsistency that has defined the season left Chambers discussing the same problems that have haunted his team. The Nittany Lions (14-15, 5-11) still haven’t developed a third scoring option to go with Newbill and Tim Frazier, despite getting 10 points from Travis, nine points from Taylor and eight from Johnson against the Badgers (24-5, 11-5).
Frazier, who finished with 10 points, was a nonfactor for much of the game due to foul trouble. The Nittany Lions outscored the Badgers 50-18 in the paint, but went 1-for-13 from beyond the arc. Wisconsin, led by Josh Gasser’s 15 points, hit eight 3s and went 14-for-15 from the free-throw line in the second half.
“You’re gonna give up points in the paint to a team like Penn State,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “But the thing you can’t let them do, some of these shooters they get on runs, so I thought we did a real good job of defending the 3-point line and hitting our free throws. That was the difference.”
Newbill scored 11 of Penn State’s 15 points during one stretch in the first half.
He hit two jumpers and a 3-pointer to start the run, bringing the Nittany Lions within 21-16. The guard then went to his bread-and-butter, driving to the basket for back-to-back layups to keep the Nittany Lions within five.
Penn State went into the half down 31-27, and Newbill scored eight of the team’s first 16 points in the second half to keep the Nittany Lions within five.
“We need a second scorer — Newbill can’t do it all by himself — second and third scorer,” Chambers said. “We just didn’t get production.”
Taylor scored four points on two post moves in the opening four minutes of the second half. But he didn’t score the rest of the way.
After playing just two minutes in the first half, Johnson provided a boost, scoring four points to help the Nittany Lions close a 10-point deficit to 45-41 with 12:31 remaining.
Johnson drove down the right side of the lane for his first layup. Two possessions later, he caught the ball on the wing and blew past Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig for a reverse layup.
Travis played at the top of Penn State’s full-court press, getting a steal to start the Nittany Lions’ comeback with the team down 43-33.
“They’re a good team passing the ball executing their offense,” Newbill said. “Their system is flawless, but we had to play with a lot of energy, just flying around the court and talking and it worked itself out.”
Penn State kept it close for the remainder of the game, cutting the deficit to two points three times in the final 10 minutes, but the Nittany Lions never pulled even.
Wisconsin hit the big shots, like Ben Brust’s 3-pointer to extend its lead to 56-51 with 8:21 left. And the Badgers knocked down their free throws, making eight straight to stay ahead after Brust’s 3.
The Nittany Lions never found the offensive balance they needed to top Wisconsin.
And Chambers tried to stay optimistic, highlighting his team’s potential, after another close loss.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Chambers said. “That’s the No. 14 team in the country. I mean we’re one stop away, we’re one made shot away, we’re one less turnover away from sitting here beating two top-25 teams in one week.”
Notes: Freshman guard Geno Thorpe did not play Sunday after scoring a season-high nine points Thursday against Ohio State. “He’s a young guy and sometimes we make poor choices,” Chambers said. “He’ll be back in the lineup this week.” … Five Wisconsin players scored at least nine points. … Ben Brust and Josh Gasser combined to go 7-for-13 from beyond the arc for the Badgers. … Penn State closes out the regular season with road games at Northwestern and Minnesota this week.