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March 14, 2013A season of frustrations for the Penn State men's basketball team mercifully came to an end Thursday afternoon in Chicago.
Without star senior point guard Tim Frazier for all but four games, a trial-and-error season that saw the Nittany Lions struggle through a 14-game losing streak, then earn the program's first win against a top four team in more than a decade, finally came to a close.
Thursday afternoon in Chicago, though hard-fought throughout, Patrick Chambers's Nittany Lions couldn't keep up against the No. 6-ranked Wolverines and ultimately found themselves swamped in the second half, losing 83-66.
"Proud of our kids. They competed. They played hard. Last month has been a lot of fun being right there, being so close," Chambers said afterward.
Once again, Penn State was right there, presenting another huge challenge to a Wolverine team that had fallen to the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley just 15 days earlier, 84-78. Thursday afternoon, the Nittany Lions didn't make it easy for a 5th-seeded Michigan squad hoping to earn a Big Ten Tournament win and eventual run through the NCAA Tournament.
Taking a commanding 14-3 lead in the game's opening minutes, the Nittany Lions' bursting offense stalled midway through the first half, allowing the Wolverines to tie the game at 14-14 with just under 12 minutes to play. Still, even after falling behind by as many as 35-26, the Nittany Lions stormed back to trail only 35-33 at the half.
The second half, however, was another story.
Trailing just 46-45 with 15 minutes left to play, the Nittany Lions went cold offensively as the Wolverines exhibited their dominance on the interior. By the 10:23 mark, the Wolverines had built up a 61-47 lead and the Nittany Lions would never recover.
"Give Michigan a lot of credit. That second half run that they made on us, we couldn't respond and we couldn't get stops," Chambers said. "Their bigs did a tremendous job today. I think that was really the difference. The bigs finished. They hurt us on the offensive glass as well. I love this team and I'm really proud of these players and the way they competed to finish the season."
Though Trey Burke's 21 points once again led the Wolverines, strong showings on the inside from both Mitch McGary and Jon Horford with 10 and 11 points, respectively, along with a combined 16 rebounds, really propelled the Wolverines to the win.
Penn State's scoring was led once again by a 20-point effort from point guard D.J. Newbill, plus 15 points from senior big man Sasa Borovnjak in his final game with the program. Guard Jermaine Marshall struggled shooting, hitting just 3 of 13 shots from the floor en route to only eight points while Ross Travis capped his roller coaster season with yet another double-double, posting 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"I told the guys -- and I said this after the game against Wisconsin, we lost in that buzzer beater -- I really enjoyed coaching them. I love coaching them and I want this season to continue," Chambers said. "We're starting to get better, they were starting to mesh. And the cohesion out there, it was great, the chemistry and the trust. You could just see it over the last four or five weeks. We were really starting to come around. It's a shame the season has to end."
Penn State finished the season with a 10-21 record overall and a 2-17 mark against Big Ten competition.
Along with Frazier, the Nittany Lions return five of their six top scorers, losing only senior center Borovnjak to graduation.
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