Against No. 14-ranked Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, the host Penn State men's basketball team needed nearly everything to fall in its favor alongside an outstanding effort to earn a win.
For 38 minutes, it nearly did.
Led by another 23 points from junior guard D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions trailed by just 3 points with 3:21 left to play, but came up short in a 71-66 loss in front of 7,807 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center. On an off-afternoon for senior point guard Tim Frazier playing in front of the home crowd for a final time, head coach Patrick Chambers identified another instance in which his team fell just short.
"You get excited. You're like, 'OK, finally. We're calling the right offense, calling the right things, getting the ball in the right hands, getting some production, taking some pressure off D.J.' We just need more consistency," he said. "We'll get there. They're young. We've got a young group."
Trailing 31-27 at the half - with Frazier on the bench for half of it with three fouls - the Nittany Lions (14-15 overall, 5-11 Big Ten) quickly found themselves down 43-33 at the under 16 media timeout.
Still, a well-timed trap helped cut the deficit to 3 points just a few minutes later on a Donovon Jack tip-in at the 11:23 mark in the second half. In what would become a theme for the afternoon, though, a Ben Brust 3-pointer on the other end gave the Badgers (24-5, 11-5) a little more wiggle room on an afternoon that saw Wisconsin finish nailing 8 of 24 3-point attempts to Penn State's 1 for 13 performance from beyond the arc.
Though the Nittany Lions were unable to ever find their strokes from deep, heavy doses of Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, and drives in the paint helped produce 50 points in the key.
"We definitely have to make threes, but you also have to take what Wisconsin gives you," Chambers said. "I think that's why we compete with Wisconsin every time we play them. We're OK with getting 50 points in the paint, we need a second scorer. Newbill can't do it all by himself. A second and third scorer. We just didn't get the production."
Of course, that wouldn't stop Penn State from putting together a gritty finish.
While forcing the issue defensively, the Nittany Lions were able to cut Wisconsin's lead to 66-64 with just 18 seconds to play but, as had been the case through much of the game, automatic free throw shooting by the Badgers down the stretch - 7 of 7 before an intentional miss with 1 second left to play - helped seal the deal.
Pointing to his team's 11 turnovers - narrowly missing its stated goal of under 10 per game - Chambers attempted to sum up what appeared to be a particularly stinging defeat, considering the opportunity.
"They scored 17 points off our turnovers. We take great pride in trying to have less than 10, but to score 17, I mean, they pretty much scored every time we turned the ball over. So obviously we gotta take care of the ball a little bit better," he said. "We can't have live turnovers. Live turnovers kill you. If you have a dead ball, at least you can set up your defense. Live, you're odd-man rushes, like hockey. They'll go in the pain and they'll act like they're getting a layup, but they'll jump stop and kick out for three, and they're absolute daggers.
"We needed to hold them under seven threes, and I think that was the difference in the game. Again, we're in a one possession game. It's unfortunate."
The Nittany Lions close out the Big Ten schedule with road games at Northwestern (3/6) and at Minnesota (3/9) before a the conference tournament in Indianapolis.