Slow start dooms Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In recent weeks, the anticipated sense of catastrophe had ceded. Penn State actually was not that bad without Tim Frazier.

The Nittany Lions won all the games they reasonably should have without the injured star, including those they weren't predicted to, against Bucknell and Duquesne. And while losses are never anything to celebrate, they played Wisconsin close on the road last week.

So in that fashion, Monday's game against No. 5 Indiana could have meant something. It could have further steered the team from the fear of catastrophe, even turned fans' expectations 60 or 70 degrees or so toward actual optimism regarding Big Ten play.

No such upgrade to genuine excitement likely will take hold. It really wasn't probable, not against this Indiana team. The Hoosiers won, 74-51, taking control with a 15-3 run to start the game.

"We have to grow up," coach Patrick Chambers said. "We have to do what we do. We have to play Penn State basketball. There's no time for gimmicks."

Chambers, always wanting to promote Penn State and willing to go for bold moves in order to do so, seemed to realize he had the opportunity to add more credibility to his team and season. On the first play of the game, he called for an alley-oop. The crowd was loud at this point and large, more than 9,000. The energy could have turned in Penn State's favor early.

But it missed. D.J. Newbill couldn't reach the pass, and Penn State turned it over.

Chambers laughed about the play after the game, not in a fun way, but in a "what-else-can-you-do?" sort of way.

"I just felt like you go at them and say, 'Hey, we're here. We're going to be here for 40 minutes,' " Chambers said. "You make it, God bless, it could be a very different first eight minutes. The students were ready to erupt."

In fairness, Penn State (8-6, 0-2) probably shouldn't have had a chance. Though the Nittany Lions had experienced recent success against Indiana, winning six of 10 games since 2008, this Indiana team was a new kind of team. Possibly a great team.

The lofty ranking assigned to Indiana makes sense. Against Penn State, the Hoosiers (14-1, 2-0) played well in the half-court, as well as in transition. Jordan Hulls (14 points) and Christian Watford (16 points) acquitted themselves well from behind the arc, and Cody Zeller (15 points), per usual, did what he does inside.

The results weren't perfect. Indiana did turn it over three times in a row to start the second half. But the overwhelming amount of talent led to the victory and stretches of graceful basketball, like late in the first half when Victor Oladipo found Zeller in transition, culminating in a dunk. And midway through the second half, when they did the same thing.

"They have great players on that team," guard Jermaine Marshall said. "It's almost like they have two teams coming at you."

Penn State's best effort of the season likely was needed to neutralize such a team. Poor shooting by the Nittany Lions pretty much ended their chances, and early. In the first half, they shot 34 percent.

Worse, the team's leading scorer, Newbill, was 3 for 15. Even when Indiana tailed off in the second half, the Nittany Lions were too far behind to add any doubt to the outcome.

Chambers said Indiana prevented Penn State from playing side-to-side. Its defense wouldn't allow Penn State to move the way it wanted after ball screens. It led to the Nittany Lions never getting into a groove.

"They played great defense, but we've got to be aggressive at the same time," Marshall said. "And I don't think we were as aggressive as we should have been."

As for any gained momentum? Penn State will have to wait a bit longer until it has earned that.

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com and Twitter @mdent05.


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