Star guard Tim Frazier was struggling through one of his worst shooting performances of the season. Though it was “Senior Day,” the Nittany Lions had no seniors healthy enough to play. And at 12-18 going into the game, PSU still had the Big Ten Tournament coming up but no realistic prospects for postseason play after that.
Oh, yeah, and the Wolverines were playing for a chance to have a share of the conference title.
Against a backdrop where it would have been easy to check out in the final nine minutes, the Lions did what they've done often when facing serious deficits this year -- they stormed back to make things interesting.
“It's very easy, when you're in a situation like we are, to mail it in,”
first-year coach Pat Chambers said. “I think you saw what this team is about. I think you saw what the heart's about and where the future lies. As disappointed as I am, I'm excited about that.”
PSU closed the regular season at 12-19 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten. The Lions are the 12th seed in the conference tournament and will face fifth-seed Indiana (24-7, 11-7) in opening round action Thursday at approximately 2:30p.m. (BTN).
Michigan improved to 23-18 and 13-5, but it was not nearly as easy as it appeared it might be. While sizzling the nets with 70-percent shooting in the first half, the Wolverines led by as many as 18 before settling for a 39-28 edge at the break.
Chambers laid into his troops in the locker room.
“I was proud of the way they came out in the second half,” Chambers said. “I challenged them at halftime.”
Early in the second half, Penn State struggled offensively. On one possession, the Lions missed three straight shots, only to grab the offensive rebound each time. Then Frazier missed a jumper on the fourth try -- one of a handful of shots that rolled around the rim and popped out for him in the game.
Michigan, with five players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc, pushed the lead to 54-35 when 6-foot-9 Evan Smotrycz made a triple with 11:33 left.
Chambers called a 30-second timeout.
“We gathered as a team and said we're not gonna give up,” Marshall said. “… Coach kept preaching, 'Show some heart, show some heart.' We did that.”
The lead was still at 19 (56-37) when Stu Douglas hit a short jumper for Michigan with 9:04 left. Then the Wolverines went into cruise control and the Lions made them pay. Marshall began to torch them, at one point weaving through traffic and throwing down a dunk. Travis crashed the offensive glass and kept balls alive.
When Frazier missed a drive with 5:50 to go, Marshall elevated above the pack and tipped in the ball to cut the lead to 56-50. The crowd went crazy.
But Penn State appeared to be finished again when gifted Michigan rookie guard Trey Burke made a 3-pointer and was fouled by Frazier. He hit the free throw for a four-point play and 62-52 lead.
Incredibly, the Lions responded in kind, as true freshman guard Trey Lewis buried a jumper from deep in the left corner and was fouled by Zack Novak. He completed his own four-point play.
“Everybody started playing harder and stepped up,” Travis said.
PSU got within 64-60 on two Travis free throws with 1:09 to go but Michigan would prove to have too much talent. Tim Hardaway Jr. countered with a jumper and then the Wolverines made 5 of 6 free throws to seal it.
“We cut into the lead, but obviously we felt as though we should have won the game,” Marshall said. “It's tough cutting into the lead (when) you're down so much. Guys get drained.”
Marshall posted a career-high 27 points and eight rebounds for Penn State, and Travis set a career standard with 15 points. Frazier made only 4 of 16 shots for 11 points, the first time he's been held below 15 since early December.
Burke led Michigan with 19 and Smotrycz added 17.