At 4:34 in the first half, Penn State looked as if it had a chance to win its first Big Ten game.
The Nittany Lions held the largest lead they’ve had in conference play at nine points. With redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill facilitating the game, the offense seemed to be clicking, with forwards Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis finding their jump shots after recent struggles.
But the first half momentum proved unsustainable as Purdue won, 58-49. The Boilermakers went on a 12-3 run to close the half and took charge early in the second en route to their victory.
“Look, I’m going to tell you where we lost the game. Last four minutes of the first half, first four minutes of the second half,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “We played great for 32 minutes did a lot of good things. Got down, fought our way back again, got it within two possessions, had a couple great looks and just didn’t fall.”
The Lions were haunted by the same problems they have faced throughout the entire season — poor shooting and scoring droughts. Penn State shot 30.6 percent (19-of-62) and went a horrific 2-of-20 from three.
“They were giving us good looks, a lot of shots went in and out tonight,” Newbill said. “They turned up the defense but we still were getting good shots, stuff we normally make.”
The Lions’ frontcourt got into early foul trouble while attempting to defend 7-footer A.J. Hammons. Both Jon Graham and Sasa Borovnjak had fouled out by the 4:53 mark in the second half, and Hammons finished with 15 points.
Freshman Ronnie Johnson also shredded the Lions, scoring 16 points with an array of finishes close to the basket.
“We had some unforced turnovers and that’s where [Johnson] thrives,” Chambers said. “He’s in the open floor, he’s got that floater… we have problems with quick guards, there’s no denying that.”
The Lions got close a number of times, trailing by as little as five with less than three minutes remaining, but could not close out.
Newbill led the way for the Lions with a game-high 17 points and tied a career high with seven assists.
Ross Travis contributed eight points along with eight rebounds, but was quiet in the second half after hitting several midrange jumpers for six points in the first.