Patrick Chambers sensed his team was in trouble.
The Penn State coach could see it in his players’ body language.
They didn’t have the “juice” and energy to compete and came out flat against Rutgers.
By the time the Nittany Lions came to life late in the second half, it was too late in a 70-68 loss to the Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“We definitely didn’t have the juice,” Chambers said. “We definitely didn’t have the energy that you need to compete 40 minutes in the Big Ten. You can’t show up in the last three minutes and finally play with some energy and juice.”
Shep Garner scored 24 points on 9 for 13 shooting to lead Penn State (12-12, 4-7). Tony Carr had 17 points and went 11 for 13 from the foul line.
Corey Sanders finished with 25 points and Deshawn Freeman added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Scarlet Knights (13-11, 2-9), who earned their first Big Ten road win in program history. Rutgers lost its first 23 Big Ten road games, a streak that started in January 2015.
“That’s a long stretch. I got tired of reading it at the bottom of every game,” first-year Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “I don’t want to be labeled by those kind of streaks, so our guys did something about it today. I’m happy for them. They worked hard. They decided that they were going to win a road game.”
Rutgers held off a late charge by the Nittany Lions to secure the win.
Down 64-55, Penn State started to rally after Payton Banks hit a 3-pointer in transition with 3:09 to play. After a Rutgers turnover, Banks connected with Mike Watkins on an alley oop to bring Penn State within 64-60 with 2:36 to play.
The Nittany Lions were finally playing with energy.
Carr’s steal and transition layup continued the comeback, setting up another tight finish. Penn State cut the deficit to one point on Josh Reaves’ 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play and took possession trailing 70-68 with 5.1 seconds left.
But Carr came up empty on his drive into the lane on the final attempt.
Before Penn State’s rally, Rutgers maintained the lead, thanks in part to generating 17 second-chance points. The Scarlet Knights were quick to loose balls and crashed the glass, pulling down 15 offensive rebounds and outrebounding Penn State 39-27.
“We knew we needed stops and rebounds to go, and we just couldn’t get the rebounds,” Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions couldn’t find their offensive rhythm during their sluggish start.
Garner carried Penn State in the first half.
The Nittany Lions guard accounted for 15 of the team’s first 18 points.
He opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers on Penn State’s first two possessions and tried another on its third possession. His third attempt missed, but Garner stayed hot while the rest of his teammates struggled.
On his final 3 of the half, Garner darted to the corner to receive an inbounds pass and fired over Rutgers center C.J. Gettys, pushing his total to 15 points and pulling Penn State within 22-18.
He finished with 17 points in the first half, going 6 for 8 from the field and 5 for 7 from beyond the arc. The rest of the Nittany Lions combined to go 1 for 18 from the field and 0 for 7 from 3-point range, and Rutgers took a 35-29 lead into the break.
Chambers said his team didn’t do a good job of moving on from its triple overtime loss to Indiana on Wednesday night.
“That falls on my shoulders,” Chambers said. “I got to help these leaders talk to the entire team of how to compete and how to get yourself back up two feet in the middle of the ring and fight.”