The Penn State men’s basketball team showed the heart and intensity that coach Pat Chambers has been preaching this season, but were simply overmatched.
The Nittany Lions continued to struggle with their shooting, hitting 31.7 percent from the field (19-60) and a dismal 15.8 percent from three point territory (3-19), as they fell to No. 6 North Carolina State 72-55 in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Senior guard Tim Frazier became the 30th player in Penn State history to reach 1,000 points behind a game-leading 23-point performance.
Sophomore D.J. Newbill and redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall also contributed offensively with 13 and 11 points apiece.
The Lions were hurt both inside and outside by NC State. Freshman Rodney Purvis got things started for the Wolfpack with 12 points off of hot outside shooting, scoring all of his points in the first half.
NC State was able to dominate inside and exploit the Lions weak interior defense behind the efforts of All-ACC junior C.J. Leslie and freshman T.J. Warren who had 22 and 14 points respectively.
“They play with an inherent confidence and are very good defensively. They’re No.6 in the nation for a reason,” Chambers said. “We were surprised by Warren. We kind of controlled Purvis in the first half and thought, if we did that, we would be in pretty good shape. They have a lot of weapons. They’re tough to defend.
Penn State played a gritty first half despite a slow start against the heavily favored Wolfpack. The Lions opened the half 2-10 from the field until Frazier heated up scoring nine points in the final six minutes. Penn State closed the half shooting 33 percent (9-27).
In the half, the Lions were able to crash the boards, grabbing eight offensive rebounds for a number of second chance opportunities. Redshirt sophomore Jon Graham controlled the glass for the Lions tying a career-high with10 rebounds. The Lions made it out of the half with a single-digit margin 35-26.
In the second half, NC State showed the offensive dominance that has established them as one of the top teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
One minute in, the Wolfpack opened up a 10-0 run, extending its lead to 47-30 and never looking back.
With 10 minutes remaining NC State’s Scott Wood nailed two straight three pointers to put the game out of reach 60-36.
“It was a good, physical game. It’s good for us to play a strong, physical team that will challenge us around the basket and Penn State did that,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Defensively, at times, we were very good. And, at times, we were disinterested defensively. We have to maintain our defensive intensity for longer periods.
Despite an insurmountable lead the Lions continued to fight, crashing the boards and fighting for lose balls to create scoring opportunities. Frazier said that this is the type of attitude that the team is trying to embody this season.
“That’s just the type of players we are, coach has instilled that in us we never give up we play the full 40 minutes no matter what,” Frazier said. “That’s what we tried to do, we got some ups and downs they got on a huge run on us but we just tried to keep playing keep pushing on and keep doing what we do.”
The Lions will move on to the losers’ bracket where they will face Providence. Chambers said that though his team struggled, this tournament will be good preparation.
“As for our guys, Tim Frazier is still trying to figure out when to shoot and when to pass. I tell him to look to score first,” Chambers said. “Then you will see all the solutions you can see. That’s the goal of the non-conference, play teams like this, prepare yourself to play in the Big Ten. I like my team, I really do. I think we’ll be all right.”