Penn State was hitting shots, its bench and the crowd were celebrating solid defensive possessions and the team had a seven-point lead against the nation’s fifth-best team.
Then 20 more minutes of basketball were played.
Behind a commanding second half, No. 5 Michigan State rolled to a 79-63 victory against the Nittany Lions in a New Year’s Eve affair at the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State’s halftime advantage disappeared in 2 1/2 minutes, and the team was outscored 39-16 during the second half in the team’s Big Ten opener.
The 16 points were barely one-third of what the Lions (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten) produced in the first half, when they shot 46.9 percent and scored 47 points. Penn State mustered just a 25 percent shooting clip the rest of the way, and coach Patrick Chambers said his team “let missing shots dictate effort.
“It’s unfortunate. That’s the team I envision playing in the first half,” the third-year coach said. “We can be a very good team and really compete in this league. Michigan State is where they are because that’s what they do to you — they score in spurts.”
The spurts Chambers talked about referenced a 10-0 run the Spartans (12-1, 1-0) used to erase the halftime deficit and another 12-0 stretch they had to expand their lead to 17 with 7:30 remaining. Though Michigan State shot the ball worse in the second half, the team attempted 36 field goals after the break to the Lions’ 20, thanks to a 28-10 rebounding advantage. Michigan State had just one more rebound than the Nittany Lions in the first half.
Penn State had a lead as large as 12 with just over a minute left in the first half, but offensive woes set in across the board down the stretch.
The Lions went from hitting 7 of 12 3-pointers in the first half to just 2 of 9 in the second. From the free throw line, Penn State hit all 10 of its shots in the first 20 minutes, compared to just 4 of 12 afterward. Guard D.J. Newbill and forward Brandon Taylor combined for 30 points in the first half, but totaled 35 in the game.
“They play great defense, but some of the shots are shots that we usually make (in the second half),” said Taylor, who netted a team-best 18 points. “It was just one of those days where they don’t fall.”
Michigan State entered the game allowing an average of 65.3 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 36.7 percent from the floor. It appeared Penn State was going to blow both numbers out of the water, but the Spartans held the Lions to a 38.5 percent field goal mark for the game.
Coach Tom Izzo joked after the game that he threatened to keep his team in State College for the holiday if it did not buckle down in the second half. And in seriousness, he talked about defending ball screens and contesting shots.
“I told them we were staying here for New Year’s, everything is closed down here so, it would’ve been a good place to keep them,” Izzo said. “We just talked about making adjustments with the ball screens, to be honest with you and we jumped some guys. We just did not do a very good job early.”
Branden Dawson led Michigan State with 20 points and added nine rebounds, while fellow starters Keith Appling and Gary Harris combined for 27 points.
While Michigan State is on its way to competing for another Big Ten title, Penn State is trying to figure out a way to close out games. Maintaining leads has been a trouble spot for the Nittany Lions all season, as they have had second-half leads in all 14 of their games this year, but five have slipped away.
“I don’t know what our deal is at halftime,” Chambers said. “I try to keep my speeches short, I give them five things that we got to work on in the second half, but I feel like we come out flat all the time. And that’s my job — my job is to inspire my team, motivate my team and have them come out and compete. For whatever reason, we didn’t do it.”