STATE COLLEGE — As Penn State wing Seth Lundy released the ball from 3-point range with four minutes remaining in the first half, the ball clinked against the rim, ricocheting straight up in the air. And as the ball descended, hitting the rim once again, time seemed to stand still. Every player on the court fixated on one thing — whether the Nittany Lions would get the favorable bounce.
And as the ball fatefully passed through the net after multiple bounces, it was the dagger that pushed the momentum completely out of reach for Michigan and in Penn State’s favor with under four minutes in the half.
With momentum swinging the wrong way, the Wolverines (11-10 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) imploded, getting trounced by the Nittany Lions (14-7, 5-5), 83-61. After failing to amass defensive authority and contain Penn State’s strong shooting early, Michigan fell into a hole too deep to climb out of.
“I was like ‘ok please, please bounce out, let’s get the rebound,’ ” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “And it stayed up there for like three-and-a-half seconds — I was counting — and then it bounced in. … After that, they just went on a spiral where they just were able to feed from the energy from the crowd.”
Even before the spiral though, the Nittany Lions came out as the aggressor, knocking down shot after shot as the Wolverines lacked energy to offset the charge. Led by guard Jalen Pickett, Penn State displayed the dominance that Michigan lacked, exploiting the Wolverines’ defensive miscues to maintain a lead.
As Pickett dominated, freshman wing Jett Howard followed his lead, going 7-for-8 in the first half to rack up 18 points. Early on, the two served as the overwhelming source of production for both teams. But towards the end of the half, after the Jett-led Wolverines cut their deficit to a single point, that source waned. In the final five minutes of play, Jett’s preeminence disappeared, attempting just one shot in that timespan. On the other side, Pickett — who tallied 17 points in the half en route to a team-high 25 point performance — had a similar occurrence, going scoreless in the final eight minutes of the half.
However, the difference between Michigan and Penn State was how other players stepped up after Jett and Pickett’s surges settled. While the Wolverines remained stagnant and unable to score without Jett’s production as a crutch, the Nittany Lions found their groove, capitalizing on other sources of scoring and their knockdown 3-point shooting.
“They were raining three’s,” Jett said. “I feel like they got in rhythm and it’s hard to stop a team that’s in rhythm already … so it was tough.”
Following a 1-for-4 shooting line from three to start the game, Penn State went 8-for-13 to finish the first half. After that swing, it drastically grew its lead to a 17-point chokehold at the half, quickly shifting Michigan’s deficit from manageable to out of hand.
The Wolverines immediately countered by attempting to neutralize the 3-point blows with triples of their own, but found little success, going just 6-for-22 from behind the arc and all but one coming from Jett. Even in the face of their struggles, Michigan continued to take that approach instead of adapting, which proved detrimental. Without junior center Hunter Dickinson’s usual prowess in the paint, the Wolverines relied heavily on their shots — which weren’t falling. Despite that ineffectiveness, coming out of the break, Michigan maintained that same strategy.
And just like in the first half, it didn’t work.
“With the threes that were being made and then also getting points in the paint, we just didn’t do a good job of stopping them,” Juwan said. “… But I will also go back and look in the mirror and say it starts with me, that I can do better.”
Without any effective defensive adjustments and with Penn State continuing its 3-point shooting clinic, the game fell completely out of reach for the Wolverines just five minutes into the second half. As Lundy knocked down a dagger three — his third of the second half — to balloon the lead to 28 with the closest Michigan defender nowhere in the vicinity from him, everything came full circle.
Lundy’s multi-bounce 3-pointer late in the first half steered all the momentum in Penn State’s direction, and his uncontested three early in the second half pushed the Wolverines out of its sight line.
And with that, Michigan never re-emerged.