Second Half Collapse Dooms Penn State in Return to Rec

Story posted December 15, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

In their return to Rec Hall, the Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4) led by as many as 20 points in the second half, but the Princeton Tigers (8-1) stormed all the way back to shock the Nittany Lions in a wild, 81-79 overtime finish.

The sold-out crowd of 6,188 was energetic from the tip, and Pat Chambers’ squad dominated the first half on both ends of the floor. The Nittany Lions took a 35-23 lead into the halftime locker room, behind 14 points from D.J. Newbill.

Penn State picked up right where it left in the second half, starting the stanza with an 11-3 run to take a 46-26 advantage. The pace would slow down a bit over the next six minutes, but with 8:29 to play, the Nittany Lions led 56-36 and looked to be cruising to a victory in their first game in Rec Hall since 1996. Even Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was thinking along the same lines.

“I was thinking about getting home in time and getting out of here, thinking about how we’re going to repair ourselves from playing this good Penn State team,” Henderson said.

But boy, did things change in a hurry.

With the Tigers trailing 58-40 with 7:24 to play, they mounted a 10-2 run---capped off by a corner three in transition by Ben Hazel---to pull within 10. Chambers quickly signaled for a timeout, and he would later say that he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see Princeton making a late push.

“You just know it’s about to come; you’ve just got to weather it,” Chambers said.

The Nittany Lions regained the momentum after a Ross Travis slam gave them a 62-50 lead, but that momentum would be very short-lived. Several minutes later, 6-10 forward Will Barrett connected on three straight trifectas for Princeton, and just like that, it was a three-point game with just over a minute to go.

With the Nittany Lions desperately needing a score to keep the charging Tigers at bay, Travis pulled down an offensive rebound off of a Frazier miss and drew a foul on the putback attempt.

The game quickly turned into a free-throw shooting contest, as Travis made one-of-two from the line, and T.J. Bray sank two foul shots on the other end to make it a two-point game. Princeton then immediately fouled Travis on the inbounds pass, and he once again made just one-of-two.

On Princeton’s ensuing possession, Bray once again drove inside and drew contact. He made the first to make it a two-point game, and that’s when disaster struck for the Nittany Lions.

Bray missed the free throw, and Travis grabbed the rebound. However, as he was falling out-of-bounds, he threw the ball straight to Spencer Weisz of Princeton. Weisz drove to the basket and drew a whistle, earning himself a pair at the line with a chance to tie the game.

Weisz coolly stepped to the line and sank both free throws to even the score at 66 with 13 seconds to play. Then, with a chance to win the game, Frazier had to settle for a contested three, and it rattled off the rim as the stunned Rec Hall faithful looked on in disbelief, as the game entered an extra session.

Princeton kept its momentum going in the early stages of overtime, as a lay-up from Hans Brase and three-pointer from who else but Barrett made it 71-66 in favor of the Tigers. Frazier made three of his next four free-throw attempts to make it 71-69, but Hazel answered with a lay-up to extend the Princeton lead back to four.

A missed three by Newbill and a pair of free throws from Bray gave the Tigers their largest lead of the overtime at 6, but the Nittany Lions still had some fight left in them.

Penn State would cut the deficit to three but couldn’t draw any closer as Princeton continued to cash in on its free throw attempts. Finally, with 17 seconds left and the Tigers leading 79-76, the Nittany Lions got the break they needed when Hazel missed a pair from the charity stripe. Newbill took it the length of the floor and converted a lay-up to bring Penn State within one.

Bray was quickly fouled, and with the decibel levels inside Rec Hall continuing to climb, Bray was off-the-mark on the first free throw, but he recovered to make the second and give Princeton an 80-78 advantage.

With nine seconds to play, Frazier raced the ball down the floor and drew a foul call, giving himself a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line. But after making the first, Frazier drew back iron on his second attempt, and Bray yanked down the rebound and was fouled immediately.

Bray made one-of-two, so Penn State trailed 81-79 with 2.9 seconds to play, inbounding the ball from underneath its own basket. In other words, the Nittany Lions needed a miracle, but their prayer was almost answered.

Allen Roberts hurled a baseball-style pass three-quarters of the way down the court, and Frazier not only caught it, but found himself a step ahead of the defender. Frazier dribbled in for a contested yet makeable lay-up, but his game-tying attempt clanked off the rim, as Penn State was handed an 81-79 defeat in heartbreaking fashion.

“It was something we had worked on throughout practice,” a dismayed Frazier said of the final play. “I was down there by myself, it was a long ball, and I just need to make the shot.”

Frazier and Newbill finished the day with 24 points apiece, but they combined to account for 13 of Penn State’s 20 turnovers. For the Tigers, after starting the game 3-for-20 from long range, they caught fire late and finished 10-32 from deep, thanks in large part to Barrett’s 6-for-11 three-point shooting and team-high 24 points.

Despite the disappointing ending, Chambers was still thrilled to see the excitement stirred up by the “Return to Rec.”

“When I saw the line [outside the game], I got a little misty,” he said. “Because I’ve been here three years, and I’ve never seen a line, anywhere. People were waiting to get first row seats, kind of like football.”

The Nittany Lions will continue their homestand by shifting back over to the other side of campus, as they take on Mount Saint Mary’s at the Bryce Jordan Center next Sunday at 2 p.m. That contest will be Penn State’s nonconference finale and can be heard right here on ComRadio.

Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey)