Penn State’s Geno Thorpe didn’t know the exact number, but he knew Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over often.
The No. 5 Badgers are averaging a nation-low 7.4 turnovers, putting them in position to break the NCAA record for the fewest turnovers per game in a season (7.59) set by the 2010-11 Wisconsin team. They’re averaging 6.1 turnovers in Big Ten play, and they committed just one turnover on a shot-clock violation in a 32-point win over Iowa.
Thorpe left the Kohl Center in the Nittany Lions’ conference opener impressed by the Badgers, who committed nine turnovers — the most Wisconsin’s had in a Big Ten game this season.
“They don’t really hurt themselves,” Thorpe said. “They take care of the ball very well, they run cuts very well and they’re very well-coached.”
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Penn State (15-11, 3-10) will take on the conference’s best team at the Bryce Jordan Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Wisconsin (23-2, 11-1) has won eight straight games and five straight by double digits. The Badgers picked up an 89-72 win over Penn State in the first meeting Dec. 31. Wisconsin shot 70 percent in the second half and had four players score at least 16 points in the victory.
Seven-foot center Frank Kaminsky, 6-foot-9 forward Sam Dekker and 6-foot-8 forward Nigel Hayes led the way along with guard Traevon Jackson. Jackson has been out for the last eight games due to a broken foot, but Bronson Koenig has averaged 13 points and shot 53.8 percent from beyond the arc since replacing Jackson in the starting lineup.
Kaminsky averages a team-high 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. Dekker is averaging 13 points and Hayes is averaging 12.4 points.
The balanced attack proved to be too much for the Nittany Lions in the first matchup.
“They’re all very capable of making 3s and they’re all very capable of getting 20, so we got to do our job,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Everybody’s got to defend and rebound together and just leave it all out there and play as hard as we can.”
Chambers said his team needs to adopt that mindset to have a chance to pull the upset.
The Nittany Lions have had a chance to win in all but two of their Big Ten losses — against Wisconsin and against Ohio State wherein they lost by double figures. But they’ve failed to make plays late in games, resulting in eight single-digit losses.
“It’s right there, it’s at our fingertips, we’re touching it,” Chambers said. “I mean it’s right there. I don’t know if I could say that in years past but last year obviously there was a lot of close games, but this year it’s almost we expect to win. We think we’re going to win and then it just kind of falls through our hands a little bit.”
A three-point loss to then-No. 19 Maryland on Saturday was the latest example.
The Nittany Lions erased a 13-point deficit and pulled even with 8:57 left after back-to-back 3-pointers by Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor.
“I just was focused on trying to win the game,” Garner said. “That’s the biggest thing, trying to get Ws for this program.”
Penn State fought hard but ultimately suffered its fourth loss in five games.
“I think these guys are so mad that we’re losing that I don’t think there’s anything encouraging like we almost beat a top-20 team,” Chambers said. “We have to make the plays at the end of the game.”
Chambers has said his team needs to knock down a big shot in a tight game.
The Nittany Lions got a stop and had a chance on a 62-60 lead with less than eight minutes to play. But Maryland’s Melo Trimble poked the ball away from Brandon Taylor, and the Terrapins tied it with a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession.
When Penn State was within two points, Trimble came through with a big play, finishing a tough layup to add to his team’s lead with 1:22 to play.
The Nittany Lions need to convert those plays while being sharper late in games to come out on top in the close games.
And after the tough string of losses, Chambers said his team is ready to compete with Wisconsin.
“They’re hungry and they’re feisty and they’re fighters,” Chambers said, “and they’re going to keep battling.”
Notes: Taylor is day-to-day after reinjuring his right knee against Maryland. ... D.J. Newbill leads the Big Ten in scoring with 20.8 points per game. Newbill scored 29 points in the first game against Wisconsin. ... The Badgers are allowing the fewest points in the Big Ten (55.9). ... Penn State’s last win over Wisconsin was a 36-33 victory in the 2011 Big Ten tournament. ... Wisconsin has tied its best start in program history. The Badgers were also 23-2 in 2006-07.