Trouble at the Stripe Dooms Lions

Jermaine Marshall

Penn State misses five of six free throws in the clutch in falling to Nebraska to remain winless in the Big Ten.

Guard and team captain D.J. Newbill insisted Penn State's 68-64 loss to Nebraska at the Jordan Center Saturday “didn't come down to free throws.” Asked if he agreed, Nittany Lion coach Pat Chambers said, “Absolutely.”

Which is a pretty good indication that Penn State's most disappointing loss of the season -- both teams entered the game at 0-5 in the Big Ten -- did in fact come down to free throws. Or missed free throws to be more accurate.

Because whenever something goes incredibly wrong in a game, the gut instinct of the team leaders is to divert attention from it. And Saturday, foul shooting was an epic issue for the Nittany Lions, as they missed five of their last six -- all on one crazy possession -- on the way to their sixth straight loss.

“We had our chances and didn't convert and didn't get it done,” said Chambers, whose team is now 8-10 overall and 0-6 in the Big Ten, and holds a stranglehold on last place in the conference.

The awful display of free throw shooting had to be seen to be believed, and a season-best crowd of 9,883 served witness Saturday. Down 66-63 after Jermaine Marshall made a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left, Penn State pressed and guard D.J. Newbill picked the pocket of Cornhusker point Ray Gallegos.

Newbill bulled his way to the bucket and missed a shot, but a whistle blew, apparently to signal a foul. The officials watched a replay and after huddling for what seemed like forever, called NU big man Brandon Ubel for TWO fouls -- a conventional foul on Newbill and a flagrant 1 on forward Ross Travis.

Down three with 24 seconds to go, PSU was awarded four free throws. The Lions had a chance to take the lead AND maintain possession.

Newbill stepped to the stripe, making the first and missing the second. Then came Travis, who bricked a pair. The Lions were trailing 66-64 but still had the ball.

Eight seconds after PSU in-bounded, Marshall was fouled. With a chance to tie it, he missed both free throws. That made five straight misses for a team that entered the day ranked first in the Big Ten in free throw shooting (73.9 percent) in conference games.

“We missed five free throws when we needed them,” Newbill said. “We just have to execute man. We have to make those free throws.”

The Lions were 15 of 24 from the stripe in the game. That was magnified by the fact that Nebraska was 16 of 16. So if both teams had made 75 percent of their freebies, Penn State would have won 67-64.

Of course, that was not the case. Ubel was fouled with 14 seconds left and made both foul shots for a 68-64 lead. Newbill missed two meaningless shots in the final seconds and that was that.

While missing free throws in the clutch was THE glaring issue Saturday, Newbill and Chambers were correct in noting that it was hardly PSU's only issue. After a 7-0 start, the Lions went flat and allowed Nebraska (10-9, 1-5) to score 10 straight points. The 'Huskers made 47 percent of their shots in the game.

A big part of that was State's inability to slow down freshman forward Shavon Shields, who was nearly perfect. He made 10 of 11 shots, went 1 of 1 from the arc and was 8 of 8 from the line.

“The kid had 29 points,” Chambers said. “At some point you have to take pride in stopping somebody.”

Offensively, Penn State operated in fits and starts. Most of that was because Newbill was trying to force the action, with mixed success. He had six assists and six turnovers. NU had 16 points off turnovers and 12 fastbreak points.

“They do a good job of clogging the lane,” Newbill said. “I was just aggressive and they got some hands on the ball. You've got to take better care of the ball.”

The bad news for Penn State is that things now get much more difficult. The Lions are at No. 2 Indiana Wednesday and they return to the BJC to face No. 11 Ohio State next Saturday.

And Chambers knows as well as anyone that his team will have no chance in those games if it shoots foul shots the way it did Saturday.

“You gotta shoot a high clip,” he said. “Getting to the foul line is difficult in this league. And when you get there, you have to convert.”

SHORT SHOTS

• Marshall led Penn State with 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting while Newbill had 11 on 3-of-11 shooting.

• PSU beat NU in the rebound battle, 36-27, and only allowed five offensive rebounds.

• Nebraska only played eight men, and just five of them scored.

• Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, who has been charged with perjury in connection to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, was seated courtside Saturday. He was right across from the Nittany Lion bench.

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