It has just been that kind of season for Penn State.
Trailing 52-47 with 2:47 remaining, Nick Colella launched a 3-pointer from the left wing after Ross Travis hit him with a cross-court pass.
Colella’s flirtatious three perused what seemed like the full circumference of the cylinder before bouncing out. The attempt would have gotten the Nittany Lions within two points and put pressure on a poor free throw shooting Boilermakers squad.
Instead, Purdue’s Terone Johnson jetted the other way and dropped in a floater from inside the foul line. From there it was mostly academic as Purdue held off Penn State 58-49 for the Nittany Lions 10th straight loss in conference play.
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“I’ll tell you where we lost the game — last four minutes of the first half, first four minutes of the second half,” said Penn State coach Patrick Chambers.
“We played great for 32 minutes,” he continued. “We did a lot of good things. We got down, fought our way back again and got it to two possessions. Had a great look, had a couple great looks, they just didn’t fall.”
Freshman Ronnie Johnson scored a team-high 16 points for the Boilermakers (12-11, 5-5 Big Ten), while fellow freshman A.J. Hammons had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Redshirt freshman Donnie Hale contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds.
D.J. Newbill led all scorers with 17, facilitating six assists in the first half and then asserted himself for 15 second-half points. The redshirt sophomore finished with seven assists to tie a career best.
No other Nittany Lion reached double figures. Jermaine Marshall finished with seven points on 2-of-14 shooting.
“I just think he had a tough night and that’s going to happen,” Chambers said of Marshall. “Jermaine is doing everything he can for us … (sometimes) you have one of those nights.”
Penn State (8-14, 0-10 Big Ten) was again undone from the foul line, surrendering 29 attempts and generating just 13 for themselves. Sasa Borovnjak (seven points), Jon Graham (two points, six rebounds) and Nick Colella (three points) fouled out.
Neither team shot well. The Boilers shot just 62 percent from the foul line, just 40 percent from the field and went 0-for-10 from three.
The Lions shot just 30 percent from the field, and went 2 for 20 from three.
If the game’s final outcome was familiar, its beginning was not. Chambers’ bunch seized a nine-point lead – its largest in conference play – with 5:46 left to play in the first half.
The lead came courtesy of a 17-4 run, punctuated by a gorgeous left-to-right crossover by Newbill into a pull-up jumper at the foul line. But the flurry only momentarily staggered Purdue.
The Boilers finished the frame with their own 12-4 momentum-stealing run, which head coach Matt Painter believes carried into the second half..
“It helped us it. We made some plays at the end of the first half and it really helped us,” Painter said. “I think we used that as momentum at the start of the second half.”
Hammons, a 7-foot freshman, entered the game less than a week removed from a 30-point performance against then No. 3 Indiana and figured to be Penn State’s biggest bugaboo.
But it was the sub-six foot penetration of Ronnie Johnson that changed the game in the second half.
The freshman is listed at 6-feet-tall but Chambers estimated the little lefty was about 5-foot-7. He even likened Johnson to Nate “Tiny” Archibald, a sub-six foot NBA Hall of Famer.
Johnson helped himself to Penn State’s paint when he pleased, generating a head of steam off inopportune Nittany Lion miscues.
“That’s where he thrives,” Chambers said of Johnson. “He’s in the open floor and he has that floater …”
Purdue dominated inside with a 36-20 edge on points in the paint, most of Johnson’s 16 came from in close, certainly not from the foul line where he went 2 for 8.
“That’s been us all season,” Painter said. “Whether we’re trying to throw the ball inside to A.J. Hammons or drive the ball, if we can get two feet in the paint … it helps our possessions.”
Chambers got decent offensive support in the first half from some of his ancillary pieces but not enough to absorb a sup-par night from Marshall.
Ross Travis finished with eight points and eight rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting after a dreadful shooting night at Iowa.
Penn State travels to Nebraska (11-12, 2-8 Big Ten) on Saturday for a 9 p.m. contest on ESPNU.
With the game’s outcome somewhat in hand and just seconds remaining, Chambers called timeout and huddled his team to remind them to stick together. He said he didn’t see any finger pointing on the court but wanted to emphasize the point anyway.
“It’s real simple … when you go through adversity and challenges it’s really easy to point fingers and not stick together,” Chambers said. “When times get tough you have to come together even more.”