Even with the team’s two star players on the bench, there was hope for Penn State right up until the buzzer on Wednesday.
But disappointment reared its ugly head again, as the Nittany Lions dropped another close game.
Minnesota beat Penn State 68-65 on Wednesday night in the Bryce Jordan Center, after Allen Roberts’ potential game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out as the final buzzer sounded.
Penn State (9-7, 0-3 Big Ten) had a five-point lead at halftime, and maintained the advantage for much of the second half, but it crumbled over the final two minutes.
Whistles were unkind to the Lions the entire game, as D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier — Penn State’s top two leading scorers — both fouled out of the game. Penn State was able to tie the game at 60 with a minute left, but Frazier fouled out and Minnesota (13-3, 2-1) hit an ensuing free throw to take the lead for good.
“We got to make plays, the next guy has to step up,” Chambers said of his team late in the game. “We got distracted minds, just too much distraction on this team. We got to come together somehow, it’s my job to figure it out.”
Newbill, who entered the contest second in the Big Ten in scoring at 18 points per game, was held scoreless in 14 minutes and hit the pine with 4:33 remaining. Even with one or both starting guards on the bench, Penn State had its chances late, but could not come through.
The Lions shot a dismal 6 of 14 (42.9 percent) from the foul line in the second half, and missed five of their last seven free throws.
“We’ve been there before,” Chambers said. “Frazier has been there before, (Ross]=) Travis has been there before. They got to make free throws.”
Minnesota cashed in from the charity stripe down the stretch, hitting 15 of 19 free throws in the second half. Penn State traded layups for free throws in the final minute, until John Johnson left a 3-pointer short with 10 seconds left. Brandon Taylor tracked down the rebound and got it to Roberts for a contested look, but it rolled off the rim to leave a Penn State sideline — the same one that saw a 20-point second-half lead against Princeton and a seven-point halftime advantage against Michigan State vanish in the last month — devastated.
“It’s frustrating,” Frazier said of watching the last minute from the sideline. “I obviously want to be out there and be able to compete with my teammates, especially because I was for the first 38 [minutes]. It was hard. I definitely don’t want to be in that situation again.”
Frazier finished with a game-high 20 points and eight assists, but there was some controversy regarding Frazier’s fourth foul, which he was whistled four with 2:08 left. Replays showed the foul should have been attributed to Roberts, but it was given to Frazier and Penn State’s bench was unaware. Chambers blamed himself for not double-checking with the scorer’s table about the situation, and Frazier was mad at himself for committing what he called a “dumb foul” as his fifth whistle.
Frazier’s five fouls were a part of 28 collected by Penn State in the game, which resulted in 34 Minnesota free throws, which loomed large in a game neither team could find its stroke from beyond the arc.
“Play hard without fouling, it’s that simple,” Chambers said. “And we just can’t grasp it, we can’t get the concept down. Thirty four free throws at home. That’s incredible.”
It was not the prettiest basketball game from start until finish, as it featured 28 turnovers and first-year Minnesota coach Richard Pitino (Rick’s son) joked the contest would not be re-airing on ESPN Classic anytime soon.
But Penn State was still able to hold its own defensively throughout, that was until the final few minutes, when Chambers said he thought his team got away from fundamentals.
“I thought our defense was really, really good for 37 minutes, then the wheels came off,” Chambers said. “And everybody is trying to make hero plays rather than habits, foundation, doing what you’re taught, doing what we do in practice. Obviously we didn’t do it in the end, and they did.”