After his team’s third straight loss Tuesday, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said his mindset is on getting the Nittany Lions to a better place.
Penn State fell 73-64 to Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center, dropping to 0-3 in the Big Ten one year after the program lost its first six conference matchups. Chambers said Tuesday he can’t explain the devastating start last year, and he can’t explain his team’s struggles this year.
“We’re going to figure it out, and we’re going to go back to work,” Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions (12-4, 0-3) have a week off before returning to action at Indiana. Chambers said he’ll give his players a day off to regroup.
“Let them think about what they need to do,” Chambers said. “Look one another in the mirror, look yourself in the mirror — one of those mirror checks and we’ll come back to work and know that we’re a good team and know that we can get better and know that we’re not playing our best basketball.”
Penn State’s shooting woes continued in the first half, as Michigan built a seven-point lead. When Michigan (9-6, 2-1) went ahead 51-41 on Aubrey Dawkins’ second-straight 3-pointer with 11:40 to play, Penn State battled back.
Donovon Jack’s three-point play on the ensuing possession started a 12-2 run by the Nittany Lions. D.J. Newbill was left open against Michigan’s zone and swished a 3-pointer to pull Penn State within four.
Brandon Taylor then converted off the glass — his lone field goal of the night — to cut it to one possession. After Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. hit a jumper, Jordan Dickerson finished an alley oop and Newbill scored on a drive to tie it 53-53 with 7:41 left.
Michigan coach John Beilein took a timeout.
“I know we needed to get a bucket or the body language would go down pretty soon,” Beilein said. “But they’re a very talented team and it’s tough to stop them.”
On the first possession out of the timeout, Shep Garner fouled Walton Jr. on a 3-point attempt in the corner. Walton Jr. hit all three free throws.
“We made a mistake and mistakes can cost you,” Chambers said.
Penn State cut the deficit to two points three different times in the next four-plus minutes.
Michigan’s Caris LeVert ensured the Wolverines maintained the lead against Penn State’s 2-3 zone.
LeVert hit a jumper at the elbow to push the Wolverines ahead 58-53. After a Garner 3, LeVert knocked in a bank shot along the right side of the lane. And after a Jack layup, LeVert used a crossover to get in the lane and hit a pull-up to make it 62-58.
“He just took over the game, man,” Chambers said. “That’s what big-time players do. We were in a zone, and our zone was working. It wasn’t like they were easy shots, they were contested shots. But he rises above and he made some tough shots.”
Chambers called LeVert’s run on three straight possessions the difference. LeVert finished with 18 points on 6 for 8 shooting to pace Michigan. Zak Irvin added 17 points for the Wolverines, who knocked down six of its seven attempts from 3-point range en route to building a 36-29 lead at halftime.
The Nittany Lions went 9 for 28 (32.1 percent) from the field in the first half. Penn State shot 19.2 percent in the first 20 minutes of its loss to Rutgers on Saturday.
“We got to figure it out,” Newbill said of the slow starts. “We got a week off now, so hopefully we get back to the drawing board, get some good practices in and watch some film and figure out what’s going on.”
Newbill scored a game-high 20 points on 7 for 12 shooting. John Johnson finished with 16 points, including 10 in the first half, for Penn State.
But the Nittany Lions’ starting frontcourt combined to go 2 for 17.
Taylor was 1 for 10, Ross Travis finished 0 for 3 and Dickerson was 1 for 4. They finished with five points.
“We got to start making these shots, got to start believing that we can make these shots,” Chambers said. “And I think that’s what it is. I think it’s a mindset. I think we got to believe that we can make these shots and we got to believe that we’re really good.”