Penn State falls to unranked Badgers

UNIVERSITY PARK — In a fight of two Big Ten heavyweights, neither team was ready to give the first punch.

Penn State and Wisconsin struggled to find the bottom of the net in the first 10 minutes, but the Badgers’ found their hero in Ohio State transfer Micah Potter.

Potter bullied the No. 20 ranked Nittany Lions in the first half, breaking his previous career high in the half alone, as his 18 points in the half carried Wisconsin to a 58-49 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center in a Big Ten men’s basketball contest on Saturday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten) couldn’t get the lid off the basket in the first half, missing their first 12 shots before Lamar Stevens hit a turnaround jumper with 11:24 left in the half to get the Nittany Lions on the board. Stevens led Penn State with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

Wisconsin (10-6, 3-2 Big Ten) received a game-high 24 points from Potter, who knocked down four 3-pointers in the opening half, despite hitting just one three all season entering the game.

“You know, Wisconsin played a great game,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “They do what they do. They got stops and they got some major production from [Micah] Potter, which we knew. We played him as a shooter, but obviously he’s got a high release and he’s every bit of 6-10 or 6-11 and he was on fire. He made big-time shots in the game. It seems like that’s what you need. You need somebody to get hot, especially on the road for them.

“We’ve got to make shots,” Chambers continued. “Let’s call it what it is. Look, if you told me I was going to hold Wisconsin to 58 points, I’d say we’re going to win the game. We’re going to win the game, especially at home because we shoot the ball better at home. We really do. We play well at home and we gave up ‘serve’ if I can use a tennis term. We are going to have to steal one on the road.”

Potter and Stevens played a back-and-forth first half, as the two traded baskets, but Potter seemed to hit a big shot every time the Badgers needed one. A 10-0 run in the first half gave the Badgers their biggest lead of 12 points.

Penn State guard Jamari Wheeler hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Nittany Lions in the game, but the Badgers held a 31-22 advantage by halftime.

The Nittany Lions struggled to get any form of production from center Mike Watkins, who attempted just three shots on the day and was held without a point and just four rebounds. Penn State received points from just four players on the afternoon and Penn State’s guard combo of Myles Dread and Curtis Jones Jr. went a combined 0-for-13 in the game and 0-for-9 from 3-point range.

“It was a bad day just like everyone else had,” Dread said. “I went 0-for-5, I think Curtis [Jones] didn’t make anything either, I mean it was just a bad day. It happens.”

The Nittany Lions made multiple runs but couldn’t get closer than six points in the second half. A 3-pointer by Stevens early in the second half cut the deficit to 33-25, and an old-fashioned 3-point play by Stevens cut the lead to six with 39-33 with 12:42 left.

A later run by Penn State cut the Badgers lead to six after a thunderous dunk from Izaiah Brockington on a great pass from Dread. The Nittany Lions switched to a small lineup with Stevens in the center and played well, but Penn State couldn’t overcome Its first-half struggles.

Brockington finished with 15 points off the bench while Wisconsin’s Brad Davison had a dominant showing with a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

Penn State relied too much on its best player on Saturday, a recipe that hasn’t been successful in past seasons. The Nittany Lions have struggled in their past two games to find production outside of the senior forward.

If other players are unable to play at the same high level that they did through the non-conference schedule, Chambers is prepared for Stevens to be more involved on the offensive end.

“Everybody’s got to do their job. If you’re a shooter, you’ve got to make some shots,” Chambers said. “If you’re a driver, you’ve got to drive the ball and play off two feet. That’s putting a lot of stress and pressure on Lamar Stevens and he’s ready for it. He’s capable of it. He’s going to need help and guys need to clear their heads and step up and start performing.”

Despite the loss, Penn State is still sitting in a good place nationally, as Penn State sits at 26th in the latest KenPom rankings and the Nittany Lions are ranked 23rd by the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is what the selection committee uses to decide which teams will make the NCAA Tournament field at the end of the season.

The struggle for fans comes from Penn State’s struggles in conference play– which are well documented. Chambers says that the difference with the 2019-20 Nittany Lions comes with age.

“Because we’re different,” Chambers said. “We’re older, we’re a little bit more talented. Our front line is older. Curtis Jones is a fifth year. These guys have been here. Experience. Experience.”

Penn State drew a crowd of 10,139 fans with the students still break on Saturday. The curtain in the upper deck was opened for the first time in years. It’s clear that fans are buying into the success, and Chambers hopes that consecutive losses doesn’t change the support.

“Well, hopefully they continue to come out,” he said. “We’ve got some great wins under our belt already. Our resume is very strong. What a great crowd, too. Look, just one day at a time. Hopefully, they stick with us and we turn this thing and we flip this thing. It’s just a little speed bump. So, we’re going to learn from it, we’re going to get better from it and we’re going to go compete in Minnesota on Wednesday night.”

Penn State returns to action on Wednesday when the Nittany Lions hit the road for a Big Ten showdown at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are fresh off a win over No. 19 Michigan and enter the game 9-7. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m.