The Minute After: Penn State

  • 02/03/2024 3:04 pm in

Thoughts on an 85-71 loss to the Nittany Lions:

Early on, this much was clear: Penn State looked very much like some of the lower-level, non-conference opponents the Hoosiers had trouble putting away earlier this season. Speedy guards. Lots of spacing on offense. Quick 3s. Gimmicky defense with the press.

With both healthy enough to play this afternoon, IU, as usual, retained the advantage down low with Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau.

But unlike in the non-conference season where Indiana eventually prevailed despite some shaky moments, this one ended much differently.

As Penn State continued to drop in 3-pointers and gain confidence in the second half, its press — coupled with a stronger emphasis to stop Ware and Reneau — messed with the Hoosiers enough to absolutely break them. Mike Woodson has no disaster non-conference losses. The blowouts in his tenure have come against good or elite teams thus far. Taking all that into consideration, the case can be made this is the worst loss of his tenure thus far. It’s a 14-point loss at home to a team sitting at No. 101 in KenPom entering the game. The Nittany Lions’ offense (110) and defense (103) also sat outside the top 100 as well.

Yes, Penn State was able to go into Piscataway last time around and pick up a road win against Rutgers. But the Nittany Lions were also playing without their top scorer, Kanye Clary. And Indiana surrendered a ridiculous 1.38 points per possession to Penn State, just about its worst defensive performance of the season. Only the Auburn (1.39) and Wisconsin (1.40) losses just barely beat out this afternoon’s defensive efficiency for the Hoosiers.

Indiana had done a much better job of defending the 3-point line in conference play, entering today’s contest with the best opponent 3-point field-goal percentage in the league. But Penn State hit 6-of-12 in the first half. A lot of them felt easy, free and open. Those six 3-pointers helped the Nittany Lions keep pace at half and trail by just four, 41-37, as Indiana’s offense hummed on the other end to the tune of 1.28 points per possession. Ware went a perfect 6-of-6 for 17 points. Reneau went 4-of-7 for nine points. At one point, the Hoosiers carried an 11-point advantage.

But out of halftime, Indiana just didn’t have it. Sloppy turnovers. Listless offense. Penn State just kept motoring along on offense, breaking down Indiana on defense and making basket after basket after basket. The Nittany Lions shot 64 percent in the second half, including 60 percent (6-of-10) from 3-point range. The Nittany Lions finished the game with five different players in double figures, including a team-high of 22 from Ace Baldwin Jr, who shot 8-of-14.

“They were just playing harder than us,” Trey Galloway said after the game. “It’s hard to really get a flow on offense when you can’t get stops.”

As the second half wore along and this one was decidedly over, Indiana fans headed for the exits early and booed.

Despite better play against the Illini and then a gutty win against the Hawkeyes, Indiana simply couldn’t build off that momentum. And so here we are again. It’s a team nowhere near an NCAA tournament berth, just fighting to tread water in conference play.

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