STATE COLLEGE – At halftime of Saturday’s game at Penn State, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein slowly walked to the locker room, his jacket draped over his arm and his head hung.
He looked tired of dealing with the difficulties of his first season leading the Wolverines, who trailed the Nittany Lions by eight.
After the game, he talked about facing the challenge of every game, but he seemed ready for this season to be over. A 69-61 loss to the Nittany Lions didn’t end the season but provided it some finishing touches.
Michigan’s 11-game winning streak over the Nittany Lions – done.
Any chance the Wolverines are streaking to the finish line – done.
And unless it beats No. 16 Purdue Sunday and wins both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, Michigan’s (5-12, 9-20) chances of not setting a program record for losses in a season – done.
“It can’t get no worse,” sophomore forward DeShawn Sims said.
Penn State (6-10 Big Ten, 14-14 overall) has had a tough year, too. After playing well early in the season, the Nittany Lions lost their best player, senior forward Geary Claxton, for the season after he tore his ACL in mid-January.
Saturday, both teams suffered through a frustrating, unspectacular opening frame in which both coaches picked up technical fouls. As the Nittany Lions were blowing an 11-point lead midway through the second half, their fortunes worsened.
Freshman point guard Talor Battle (19 points, nine rebounds and four assists at the time) drove to the hoop, but fell hard on his tailbone after sophomore Ekpe Udoh blocked his shot. As the Bryce Jordan Center crowd chanted “Talor Battle,” he went to the locker room with the help of a trainer.
Battle retuned to the game four minutes later, and the Nittany Lions promptly went on a 15-0 run with five 3-pointers. Senior Mike Walker hit three, and Battle made two and assisted two of Walker’s.
On the final triple, Battle got caught in the air at the top of the key and threw the ball to the right elbow in the direction of Walker. Walker, who said he didn’t know where he was on the court, circled the bouncing ball and shot almost as he picked it up.
“Oh, that was drawn up,” said Battle, whose 28 points, 13 rebounds and six assists overshadowed Michigan freshman Manny Harris’s career-high 29 points.
As Penn State pulled away in the second half, Beilein shuffled Sims (1-for-10, three turnovers) and senior Ron Coleman (2-for-6, two turnovers) in and out of the lineup, looking for a contribution from either. It never came.
By the time it was all over, Penn State’s 3-point-field-goal percentage was 20 points higher than Michigan’s overall field-goal percentage.
“They’re home and we’re away,” Sims said, explaining the Wolverines’ shooting woes. “Guys hit shots. Everybody can’t be on.”
The defeat, which gave Michigan its second-ever 20-loss season (1959-60) dragged out its misery, ending two hours and 14 minutes after the scheduled tip.
“It was a unique game,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say that.”