Anatomy of a Collapse: How Penn State Blew a Golden Opportunity Against Michigan State

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2014

As many B1G fans were watching the ending of the Illinois-Indiana game on Tuesday night, they may have been missing a good chunk of the Michigan State-Penn State first half. The Nittany Lions put quite a scare in Sparty, as they jumped out to a 47-40 advantage at halftime. This was largely based upon a torrid start from the three-point line (7-of-12), with a 10-of-10 performance at the free throw line and nine Michigan State miscues contributing factors. As an example, the Spartans had a 1:05 stretch at the end of the half where they turned the ball over on five possessions in a row, leading to an 8-0 Penn State run that put the score at 45-33. Michigan State went closed out the half strong, but Penn State was still in the driver’s seat. So after Michigan State went on to win the game, 79-63, by holding Penn State to 16 points in the second half (0.43 points per possession), what exactly went wrong?

Tim Frazier had an off night against Michigan State. (

Tim Frazier had an off night against Michigan State (Photo credit:

Let’s break down the half into sections.

  • 20:00-17:23: Things began to unravel early, as Donovon Jack picked up his third foul in the first minute. This forced Penn State to go with three guards. Tim Frazier sandwiched a missed runner between two turnovers and Gary Harris scored eight of Michigan State’s 10 points to start the half. He hit two wide-open threes and one could sense a bit of a momentum shift. Penn State burned a quick timeout as they went from seven up to down three all within the first 2:37 of the half.
  • 17:23-12:19: In this section, Michigan State extended the lead out to 60-53. Penn State went 1-of-4 from the free throw line here, and Allen Roberts missed an opportunity for a three-point play when he blew a layup that he should have converted. It also seemed that Keith Appling started to feel as though his individual battle with Frazier was swinging his way. He blocked Frazier’s shot for the second time in the half at about the 17-minute mark, and Frazier got visibly frustrated. Appling then hit two threes within 40 seconds of each other to give the Spartans a seven-point cushion, as Sparty was now on a 20-6 run.
  • 12:19-9:43: This is where Sparty went on another 8-2 run and pretty much ended the game. Adreian Payne didn’t do much offensively, but he was able to find Branden Dawson for layups on two separate occasions during this sequence. Frazier once again tried to will his team back in the game, but was again denied at the rim by Dawson. Jack then missed a wide-open three, D.J.Newbill got called for a charge, and even though they switched to a 1-2-2 half-court press, Penn State could not slow Michigan State down at this point.

The game was essentially over. Penn State would end up going 4-of-12 from the free throw line in the second half, 2-of-9 from three, and Frazier ended up with a measly seven points and four turnovers for the game. They ended up getting outrebounded by 19, allowing Michigan State to grab 15 offensive caroms, 11 in the second half. This illustrates that when faced with an elite opponent at home, Penn State has to stay engaged for the full 40 minutes in order to compete. They can’t get overconfident, nor can they play to lose. While there probably was an element of luck involved with their hot shooting performance in the first half, they still had several chances to keep this game a lot closer than it ended up. They simply stopped defending and allowed way too many easy second half looks for Michigan State. This reaffirmed the point that there really aren’t going to be any easy nights for any team this season in the best conference in the country. It also showed that Penn State, despite the way that it finished this game, might be quite a bit better than people realize. They were up 12 on a potential Final Four team with their best player not playing well. They have the potential to win some games that people don’t expect them to win, so long as they stay focused on execution for both halves.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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