Penn State men's basketball head coach Patrick Chambers saw his team be what he'd always envisioned it to be against No. 5-ranked Michigan State on Tuesday afternoon.
The problem, of course, was that the Nittany Lions only performed at a high level for the 20 minutes of the first half.
Taking a 47-40 lead against the Spartans at the half, the Nittany Lions led by as many as 12 points, only to allow a 10-0 run to open the second half and, eventually surrender a 79-63 loss in front of the 7,397 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center.
"I think we let missing shots dictate our effort," Chambers said, noting specifically the 0-4 shots from the floor and two turnovers in the four minute span that saw the Spartans jump to a 50-47 lead. "It's something I talk about all the time, and it's unfortunate because the team that I had envisioned played in the first half.
"We can be a really good team and really compete in this league, but Michigan State is where they are because that's what they do to you. They score in spurts and the best thing you can do is try to kill that spurt. We did. It was 50-47, we got to the line and missed free throws. When you're trying to stop the momentum and stop the run, I thought we did everything we were supposed to do, we just didn't convert."
The contrast could not have been more stark.
In the first half, the Nittany Lions (9-5 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) knocked down a season-high 7 of 12 shots from beyond the arc, led by three from guard D.J. Newbill and two apiece from Donovan Jack and Brandon Taylor. Along with a 10 of 10 mark from the free throw line and only a 17-16 rebounding deficit to the Spartans (12-1, 1-0), the Nittany Lions owned a clear edge in momentum and playing spirit on New Year's Eve in bitterly cold State College.
Having created 13 points off nine Michigan State turnovers - thanks in large part to a three-quarter court trap for a spurt near the end of the first half - the Nittany Lions were rolling.
Chambers, citing the need to keep the turnover margin in his team's favor, saw it quickly dissipate in the second half, though. Choosing to point out both the positives and negatives from the loss, the Nittany Lions' head coach said
"You show the positive half and say, 'Look at what we can be! Look at what we could become!' It's a long season, it's only one game," he said. "We'll get up tomorrow, we'll watch film, we'll do what we're supposed to do, but then you got to the second half and go, 'This is where we are mentally and this is where Michigan State is.'
"That's why they're one of the best in the league, because they are tough mentally and physically and they wear you down. This is where we need to step up and fight back, whatever cliche you want to use."
Echoed Newbill, "We gotta play 40 minutes. We played great for 20 minutes, but the game is 40 minutes. We gotta take some of the good things we did in the first half, watch film, and bring it into the whole game."
Knocking down just 5 of 20 shots from the floor (25 percent), 2 of 9 from beyond the arc (22.2 percent) and only 4 of 12 from the free throw line (33.3 percent), the Nittany Lions could only muster 16 points offensively in the second half as the Spartans redoubled their numbers from the first half, knocking down another five shots from 3-point land.
Led by a 20 point effort from forward Branden Dawson and, maybe more important, 12 points from bench guard Travis Trice, the Spartans countered by taking advantage of Penn State's missed shots with an incredible 28 to 10 edge in rebounding and 19 points off turnovers.
Joking that he and his assistants threatened their team that it'd have to stay in State College for New Year's Eve, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo noted the much-improved effort of his squad in the second half while acknowledging that the Nittany Lions "jumped" his team in the first half.
Showering praise while mixed with honest criticisms of the game's eventual outcome, Izzo said the Nittany Lions are poised to continue making steps forward as a program.
"That's what their team has gotta do now. It's gotta grow and it's gotta grow and they gotta realize that if we take those two guards out of it a little bit, some of those other bigs gotta step up, and I think that's the next part of their way of growing," Izzo said. "I think they will. I'm not saying this after a big win, but I said early, I thought Pat is a really good coach, and those guys play hard.
"They're going to get better, they just gotta keep playing together and they'll get better."
The Nittany Lions return to action on Saturday to take on Illinois in Champaign (2:15 p.m., BTN).
According to Chambers, he hopes his team can learn from its first experience of the Big Ten schedule.
"This has got to be a learning experience, learning game," he said. "We gotta learn a lot from this because we do have a chance, we do, but mentally, we gotta get way tougher, and they were. They were tougher and they showed it. I felt like we had poor body language and did things that I haven't seen in a while.
"That's gotta change. That starts with our leaders. Our captains have gotta do a better job."