The Penn State men’s basketball team started slow and couldn’t recover in its 81-73 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday at the Prudential Center in the Never Forget Tribute Classic.
The Nittany Lions fell behind by 10 in the first five minutes and trailed by 20 at halftime. They rallied in the second half, cutting the deficit to five points with less than two minutes to play before the Panthers regained control.
“A tale of two halves,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Not sure where we were in the first half. Maybe the bus was late. But we showed up in the second half and competed like a Penn State basketball game.”
Mike Watkins led Penn State with 17 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. Tony Carr and Payton Banks each had 13, and Shep Garner added 12 for the Nittany Lions (6-5). Josh Reaves made his first start of the season and finished with eight points and six rebounds.
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Pittsburgh’s Michael Young scored a game-high 29 points to go with nine rebounds, and Jamel Artis finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The Panthers (8-2) used a 10-0 run to take a 13-3 lead and led by double digits for the final nine minutes of the first half, taking a 42-22 lead into the break. Pitt maintained a comfortable advantage until Penn State made a run late in the second half.
Garner and Carr helped the Nittany Lions slice an 11-point deficit to five with 1:50 to go.
Garner hit a 3-pointer, Carr finished a layup and Garner hit a free throw to pull Penn State within 71-66.
Sheldon Jeter, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, then knocked down a 3-pointer.
“Sheldon is a great team guy. He probably hit the biggest shot of the game. They had the moment and he jumped up and he stuck that three in from the corner there,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Biggest shot of the game probably for us.”
The Panthers rebuilt a double-digit lead in the final minute to close out the win.
“That looked like a lot of our games to me so far this year ...” Stallings said. “Really good play on both ends in the first half. Second half, offensive play was probably good enough. Defensive play was not very good.”
Penn State returns to action against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden at 11 a.m. next Sunday.