Poor endings haunt Penn State

Tumble to 0-3 in Big Ten Conference

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The fact that endings such as this one have become predictable for Penn State doesn't necessarily mean they are less painful. The one Wednesday night certainly wasn't free of anguish. In fact, it might have afflicted Penn State worse than any loss so far.

The Nittany Lions lost to Minnesota, 68-65, at Bryce Jordan Center, dropping them to 9-7 and 0-3 in the Big Ten Conference, the winless start through three games meaning it will be difficult for them to thrive in conference play.

It was a game Penn State could have or, perhaps, should have won.

The Nittany Lions led, 35-30, at halftime. They held on despite D.J. Newbill scoring zero points and being in foul trouble the entire game.

Instead, it ended like the first two games of the Big Ten season. Against Michigan State, Penn State led before the second half happened, when it crumbled, scoring just 16 points and getting blown out by the Spartans. Those woes carried over into the next game, a 75-55 loss to Illinois that was close at the half.

"We have to translate over to the second half," guard Tim Frazier said.

Coach Pat Chambers would go as far as to say Penn State played well for 37 minutes. At that point, Penn State was still ahead and could have closed it out if not for turnovers and missed free throws.

Minnesota took a 63-60 lead in the final minute after DeAndre Mathieu stripped the ball from John Johnson. The Nittany Lions made 43 percent of their second-half free throws compared to 80 percent in the first half.

It didn't help that Newbill and Frazier missed the final minutes. Frazier fouled out with just under two minutes to go. He and Chambers thought the fifth foul on Frazier was actually his fourth, believing an earlier foul had been attributed to Allen Roberts.

"It was a stupid foul, no matter if it was my fourth or fifth," Frazier said.

"It's all on me."

Said Chambers: "Play hard without fouling -- it's that simple. And we just can't grasp it, can't get the concept down."

There was frustration in his voice. Penn State faces Indiana Saturday at home before road games at Michigan and Purdue. Nothing is getting easier.

Chambers said his team is distracted. That's why it's not closing out games. He said they are distracted by minutes, shots, social media, a number of things.

He said learning to do the little things, i.e. make the free throws, play smart defense at the end, is in the hand of his players. Keeping them away from the complications so this season doesn't turn down an even darker corner is on him.

"We have to come together somehow," he said.

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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