Glancing at the Penn State men’s basketball schedule, a road game against No. 4 Michigan is a game that would likely get written off as a blowout defeat.
The Nittany Lions (8-17, 0-13 Big Ten) have struggled mightily in the Big Ten. They’re a last place team and the only one without a conference win. On the other end, the Wolverines (22-4, 9-4 Big Ten) have stood as a conference powerhouse with the second-ranked scoring offense led by explosive guard Trey Burke (18.2 points per game, 7.0 assists per game)
With the odds stacked against them, the Lions challenged Michigan, leading by as many as eight in the first half, but ultimately fell, 79-71, in Ann Arbor on Sunday.
Penn State assistant coach Brian Daly said the intensity of pre-game warm ups allowed the Lions to make a statement in the early going.
“I went out there to see the guys and they were pouring sweat. They were ready to go at the opening tip,” Daly told the Penn State Radio Network after the game. “I thought we executed pretty well offensively. Defensively, we wanted to obviously stop Trey Burke, but secondarily their three pointers and in the first half I think they only had two threes, so we did have a nice start to the game.”
The Lions managed to start well despite early foul trouble for leading scorers D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall. After scoring seven of the team’s first nine points, Marshall picked up two fouls and went to the bench with 14:05 left in the half. Newbill also had two fouls, going to the bench just three minutes later.
With the two starters limited and the Lions holding a 14-9 lead, it was up to the rest of the lineup to pick up the slack. Ross Travis, Sasa Borovnjak and Nick Collela did just that, connecting on shots and locking in on defense to keep the Wolverines at bay. The Lions held the lead until Burke drained a runner on at the end of the first half to tie things up, 32-32.
“We did have a chance to win it, that’s the bottom line,” Daly said. “We played this team well for most of the game but it’s a 40 minute game and you got to play all 40.”
Michigan began to pick things up to open the second half. The Wolverines ran off six straight points beginning with an alley-oop dunk from Glenn Robinson III who finished with 21 points. Though Michigan looked like it had the potential to formulate a big run and put the Lions away, Penn State continued to play hard.
Brandon Taylor tied the game again at 38-38 and though Michigan took the lead back, the team never led by double-digits.
A crushing blow came to the Lions with just under three minutes to play. With Michigan up 69-63, Burke missed an out-of-control lay-up on a fast-break that landed in between two Penn State players, who could not possess it. The ball bounced to Robinson, who was fouled and hit both of his free throws. The Lions could not get closer than six points the rest of the way.
“We missed a lot of shots in the first half,” Michigan coach John Beilein told the Michigan radio broadcast after the win.. “The second half between offense and defense we made our shots we forced them to miss a few. We still have to get a lot better.”
Burke finished with a game-high 29 points as well as five assists.
Marshall and Borovnjak led the way for the Lions with 17 points. Ross Travis added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.