Penn State improved in key areas that plagued it all season, but in the end some old, familiar flaws proved fatal to the team’s chances of upsetting Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
The fifth-seeded Wolverines fell behind the Nittany Lions early, before seizing control late and eventually running away with an 83-66 victory.
The Nittany Lions jumped on the Wolverines early with 14 straight points, grabbing a 14-3 lead after more than five minutes of play.
John Beilein’s club responded swiftly.
“Really proud of this team,” Beilein said. “ We had a really disappointing loss on Saturday. Bouncing back is always a difficult thing to do. But then you get down 14-3; we could have pointed fingers at each other, we could have lost our composure. Within no time it was a tie game or we were ahead by one.”
A 23-6 run quickly secured momentum.
Michigan entered the game fresh off a 72-71 loss to Indiana that gave the Hoosiers the outright regular season conference championship.
Trey Burke led all scorers Thursday with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting for Michigan who will face No. 4 seeded Wisconsin on Friday.
D.J. Newbill scored a team-high 20 points for Penn State (10-21, 2-16 Big Ten), but required 22 attempts (10-of-22) to reach that mark.
Patrick Chambers’ team stayed close, but eventually gave way to a more balanced Michigan attack.
“Proud of our kids,” Chambers said. “They competed. They played hard. Last month has been a lot of fun being right there, being so close.”
In a season rife with poor shooting, plenty of turnovers and low assist totals, Penn State outshot Michigan from the field, finished with single-digit giveaways and dished double-digit assists.
However, the familiar themes of concentrated scoring from a just few, a high free throw disparity and long scoring droughts proved insurmountable.
The Nittany Lions shot 48 percent from the field for the game to the Wolverines 46 percent.
They also finished with just eight turnovers, but, in contrast to the upset win over Michigan in February, they forced just four Wolverine miscues.
Sasa Borovnjak was the Nittany Lions’ most efficient offensive player by far. In his last game, the senior from Serbia scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Ross Travis supplemented offensively with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double in seven games.
Despite accumulating 12 assists in the game, Penn State received points from just six players.
Jermaine Marshall, who entered the game averaging 19 points through his last five, scored just eight points. The redshirt junior filled the stat sheet with seven assists and six rebounds, but shot poorly (3-of-13) from the field.
Nick Colella tallied six in his career finale, while freshman Brandon Taylor scored five.
In contrast, the Wolverines (26-6, 12-6 Big Ten) got significant bench contributions.
Starters, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas combined for 30 points, but the combination of reserves Mitch McGary and Jon Horford changed the game.
Hardaway Jr. shot poorly (5-of-14) but finished with 15 points and five assists. Stauskas also scored 15, but did it efficiently on just 4-of-7 shooting (he was 2-of-4 from three and 5-of-5 from the foul line).
With freshman forward Glenn Robinson III held in check all game (five points, six rebounds), McGary’s 10 points and 11 rebounds were huge. The freshman earned his second-career double-double in the first half.
Horford, a sophomore, finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
“Give Michigan a lot of credit,” Chambers said. “That second half run that they made on us, we couldn't respond and we couldn't get stops. Their bigs did a tremendous job today. I think that was really the difference. The bigs finished. They hurt us on the offensive glass as well.”
The Wolverines tallied 15 offensive rebounds that resulted in 28 second-chance points. They also scored 19 points from the foul line to just five for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State finished the first half well with a 7-0 run punctuated when Newbill spliced between two defenders and scored in the lane, getting his team within 35-33 at the break.
The teams exchanged baskets in the second until Michigan (26-6, 12-6 Big Ten) earned separation with an 18-2 spurt that busted the game open (62-47) with 10:23 remaining.
“I think that they got stops,” Newbill said of the Wolverines’ burst. “They got out on the break, they hit shots, they rebounded the ball really well. I think that that led to them getting on their run.”
When asked if he felt his team was close to getting over the hump, Chambers took a wait-and-see approach.
“We got a lot of work to do,” the second-year coach said. “We're in the Big Ten. It's the best conference. Over the hump? I'll let you know when we get there next year ”
“We're starting to get better, they were starting to mesh. And the cohesion out there, it was great, the chemistry and the trust. You could just see it over the last four or five weeks. We were really starting to come around. It's a shame the season has to end.”