A night after seeing things click on the offensive side of the ball, Penn State largely looked discombobulated on Wednesday night, as it fell to Bradley 59-56 in the final game of the Cancun Challenge.
Bradley jumped out to a quick 6-0 advantage, thanks to back-to-back threes from Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye and Nate Kennell. But things evened out over much of the first half as the Nittany Lions began to impose their size over Bradley, dominating the the boards 12-5 in the early parts of the first half.
Offensively, as usual, it was the Lamar Stevens show. The junior got off to a bit of a rough start, beginning the game 1-of-5 from the field, but he found his way as the half wore on. Stevens drilled a long jumper, and then powered through on a layup to give the Nittany Lions a 16-15 lead.
The back and forth continued the rest of the first half, with neither team having more than a four-point advantage. Penn State did go into halftime with the lead though, as Stevens hit a jumper to put the Nittany Lions up 33-32.
The beginning of the second half was prime Penn State basketball. If you follow the program, you know that isn’t a good thing. The Braves came out of the locker room, and went on a 21-9 run, giving themselves a 53-42 lead after a Darrell Brown three.
But this is Pat Chambers and Penn State, so to no surprise, there wasn’t any quit. Slowly but surely, the Nittany Lions clawed themselves back into the game. With Bradley deploying a zone, Stevens found an open Rasir Bolton who nailed in a corner three, pulling Penn State within two at 57-55.
Unfortunately, that was as close as Penn State would get. Down by four with 20.8 seconds left, Josh Reaves missed two threes, and while Stevens was able to pull down another offensive rebound and draw a foul, there was only 1.5 seconds left. Stevens rimmed in the first free throw, and then intentionally missed the next perfectly. The ball bounced twice on the rim, and allowed John Harrar to tap it out to an open Myles Dread, who just couldn’t hit the shot, giving Bradley a 59-56 victory.
FOUR FACTOR ANALYSIS
The number that sticks out is the offensive rebounding rate in Penn State’s advantage. When you can dominate the boards at that level and see that many second chance opportunities, it certainly stings when you can’t convert.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Stevens had to carry the load tonight like usual, and for the most part, he did an apt job. Did he force things a little bit? Sure, but with Penn State struggling to put points on the board, Stevens was at least having success getting to the free throw line, and making the majority of opportunities once there.
This is a flawed team that is overly reliant on isolation ball to score points. Whether it’s Stevens on the wing or in the post, he’s option A, B, and C. When that isn’t working, freshman Rasir Bolton is forced to create things for himself, often throwing up wild, inefficient shots.
Sure, the Nittany Lions returned Stevens and Josh Reaves, but the other talent on this team is young — that being, Bolton and Myles Dread. So there’s still hope that Penn State can figure things out once these young guys get more up to speed. Plus, there’s a 6-foot-9 center waiting in the wings, who will certainly provide help both offensively and defensively.
But despite the optimism of growth, losses to DePaul and Bradley were not the way Penn State wanted to start the season. With No. 13 Virginia Tech up next on Tuesday, it looks likely that the Nittany Lions will fall back to .500 shortly.