With Penn State returning to Assembly Hall at 7 p.m. tonight, it was only inevitable that last year’s game in Bloomington would be brought up.
On that night, IU blew an 11-point lead in the game’s final two minutes to lose 66-65. The Hoosiers turned the ball over five times in the game’s final 199 seconds, including twice on back-to-back inbound plays to allow Penn State to complete a nearly impossible comeback.
But as IU Coach Tom Crean has said, a team can’t be beaten twice by the same game. And this is a new-look Penn State team without Tim Frazier that Penn State Coach Patrick Chambers said is still working on balancing the right mix of veterans and youth while looking for its first Big Ten win.
“It’s a new deal,” Chambers said. “It’s a new year and we’re totally different, they’re totally different and honestly it was a bit of luck. Things have to go your way when you’re down 11 with four minutes to go. Let’s just call it what it is.”
The Nittany Lions (12-4, 0-3) would welcome a bit of luck tonight against the Hoosiers (12-4, 2-1) as they still look for their first Big Ten win.
Penn State lost its opening three conference games to Wisconsin, Rutgers and Michigan by an average of 10 points per contest.
Chambers’ team completed the nonconference portion of its schedule 12-1, tied for the best among Big Ten teams. But that record comes with an asterisk, as Penn State’s lone game against one of Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 teams was a win against George Washington.
Penn State relies heavily on senior guard D.J. Newbill to break down defenses and create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates.
Joining Newbill in Penn State’s two-guard lineup is freshman point guard Shep Garner. Both shoot better than 37 percent from 3-point range and have assist rates of 19.8 percent and 18.2 percent, ?respectively.
Senior guard John Johnson, a transfer from Pittsburgh, is normally one of the first off the bench, but Penn State announced yesterday he would be suspended “because of conduct inconsistent with team standards and values.”
The suspension potentially increases the minutes of 6-foot-6 forward Brandon Taylor and 6-foot-7 forward Ross Travis at the 3 spot. Both taller small forwards could create matchup problems for an undersized IU team.
Ironically, Crean said the loss of Johnson might actually help Penn State. He said situations where players get suspended sometimes have a tendency to rally teams as players like Taylor and Travis attempt to step up in his place.
“They have a lot of skilled guys still,” sophomore forward Collin Hartman said. “They’re a good program. They work very, very hard.”
Crean hasn’t forgotten what Penn State did to the Hoosiers last year at Assembly Hall and will be doing all he can to not allow a repeat performance.
He expects Penn State to come out physical and be well-rested, having not played in a week. This could provide IU with quite the challenge as it looks to climb to the top of the Big Ten standings.
“We learned that firsthand in here last year,” Crean said.
“We understand that when you’re playing Penn State, you’re playing for 40 minutes, minimum. They account for every second of the game, and that’s the only way you can play. We have to have that kind of mentality.”