After gut-punch losses, No. 14 Penn State overcomes slow start to beat Rutgers

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After gut-punch losses, No. 14 Penn State overcomes slow start to beat Rutgers


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hangovers? That was apparently something for the folks in the Beaver Stadium parking lots to worry about. Penn State coach James Franklin wasn’t interested in discussing whether his team might have been in the throes of one Saturday afternoon, when it started slowly and then slogged to a workmanlike 35-6 homecoming victory over Rutgers (see observations).

Never mind that the 14th-ranked Lions were coming off back-to-back gut-punch losses, at Ohio State and Michigan State. Never mind that the season’s course appears to be set, that there is a certain resignation about what this outfit, now 8-2, might be able to accomplish.

He was more interested in recalibrating everybody’s sights, making them understand there is still much that can be salvaged, even if a return trip to the Big Ten championship game is a long shot, a berth in the College Football Playoff a near impossibility.

“I think,” he began, “we made progress, and we were able to get a fairly convincing win against a program on the rise.”

Well, yeah, kinda. Rutgers came in with three victories in its last four games and overall has won twice as often as it had while going 2-10 last year. Then the Scarlet Knights moved to a 6-0 lead after a quarter, in part because none of the Lions elected to field the opening kickoff, before PSU yawned, stretched and made its appointed rounds.

Trace McSorley threw for two touchdowns and ran for one. Saquon Barkley, limited to a season-low 35 yards on the ground, nonetheless rushed for two TDs of his own. And later he addressed the season’s expectations, as opposed to the grim realities.

“I visualized going undefeated,” he said. “I visualized everything. But you only get to control what you can control.”

And the games in Columbus and East Lansing slipped through their fingers, in large part because they are lacking on both lines — Franklin went so far as to call their offense “too finesse” after the MSU loss — but also because of a blocked punt here, a roughing-the-passer penalty there, and few dozen completions by J.T. Barrett and Brian Lewerke.

Tough to adjust one’s focus after all that. But outwardly, at least, they are being brave in the attempt.

“We’re 8-2 right now,” Barkley said. “We hold ourselves to such a high standard that everyone thinks this is a bad season. There’s multiple teams that would beg and wish and dream to be in the position we are.”

A 10-2 regular-season finish is still possible. So too is a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl. Scant consolation, maybe, since the Lions were No. 2 in the country heading into the Ohio State game, but consolation nonetheless.

“We’re 8-2, top 15 team in the country,” Barkley said again, “and everyone’s like the season’s going to crap, which realistically it’s not. We all wanted to have an undefeated season, but we didn’t. We lost two games. But now that’s all behind us. All you can really focus on is the last three games that we have and (go about) doing what you can do to win those games.”

No surprise, then, that Barkley fended off questions about his immediate and long-term future — that he would say neither whether he planned to declare for the draft (as expected) nor whether he planned to sit out the bowl game, as two NFL-bound backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, did a year ago.

That’s a discussion for another time, he said, in both cases. More pressing now is whether the Lions can ever knock anybody off the ball. Barkley, working behind a line minus injured tackle Ryan Bates for the second straight week, found little traction against Rutgers. And over the last three weeks, he has managed 141 yards on 49 carries, while seeing his Heisman chances evaporate.

Time and again Franklin has said his team needs to be more physical — on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. And when asked whether any strides had been made in that regard Saturday, he didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement.

“I think a little bit,” he said, “but I still think that’s an area that we can get better in.”

Barkley’s take on Franklin’s week-old assessment?

“‘Finesse’ means we’re trying to be too flashy and got to grind out the yards and be a little more gritty,” he said. “That’s what I think of when I think ‘finesse.’ ”

He too thought some progress had been made. Baby steps, anyway.

Same for the recalibration process, the resetting of goals. One would think, after all, that the hangover cannot last forever, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple

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Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Josh Reaves had his second career double-double, Shep Garner hit two 3-pointers in the final three minutes and Penn State overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Temple 63-57 on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Reaves shot 7 of 10 from the field, including a career-high tying four 3-pointers, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Tony Carr missed 10 consecutive field-goal attempts before scoring his first points of the game on a jumper that pulled Penn State within four with 6:20 to play. That sparked a 16-2 run to give the Nittany Lions a 62-54 lead with 16 seconds left.

Reaves and Garner hit back-to-back 3s to make it 54-all before John Harrar's layup with 1:52 remaining gave Penn State its first lead since 4-3. The Owls made just 1 of 9 from the field and committed three turnovers during the span.

Shizz Alston Jr. led Temple (17-16), which led for more than 35 minutes, with 15 points and Josh Brown added 14.

Carr and Garner -- who came in averaging 19.9 and 11.1 points per game, respectively -- combined to score 10 on 3-of-19 shooting for the Nittany Lions (22-13).

The Owls made just 5 of 14 free throws while Penn State hit 20 of 30.

It was the 93rd meeting between the schools, which are located less than 200 miles apart, but the first since 2011. The Nittany Lions snapped a seven-game skid in the series, dating to Dec. 9, 2000.

Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented

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Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented


NEW YORK — Purdue threw a little of everything at Penn State star Tony Carr, the Big Ten's leading scorer. Bigger guys. Smaller ones. Switches and some double teams.

Carr managed only 12 points in a woeful shooting game, and No. 8 Purdue separated from Penn State in the second half of a 78-70 victory Saturday that put the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Third-seeded Purdue (28-5) faces No. 5 Michigan, which will try to repeat as tournament champs on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Purdue frustrated Carr and held him to 4-of-18 shooting. The sophomore faced an array of defenders, including the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Nojel Eastern, 5-10 P.J. Thompson, 6-4 Dakota Mathias, 6-8 Vincent Edwards and 6-1 Carsen Edwards.

"When you have a good player like that it takes more than one guy because he's able to make shots and make plays over guys," Vincent Edwards said. "They just did a good job of taking up that space and being able to force him into tough shots."

Shep Garner led the Nittany Lions (21-12) with a career-high 33 points and the senior set a school record with 129 career points in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Boilermakers will be making their third appearance in the Big Ten championship since the tournament started in 1998. Their one championship came in 2009.

Against Penn State, Purdue used a 12-2 run the middle of the second half to build a 15-point lead. Carsen Edwards led the way, spinning through the lane for a driving layup and making a 3 from up top that made the score 59-44 with 9:15 left. He finished with 27 points and shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range after scoring 26 on Friday against Rutgers.

"It's a consistency," guard Dakota Mathias said of Edwards. "He's being very efficient, too."

Edwards made back-to-back 3s to make it 74-56 with 3:41 left and Purdue was on its way to play for a title.

Isaac Haas, the 7-2 center, added 17 points and seven rebounds for Purdue.

With Carr struggling, Penn State could not keep up. He picked up a third foul in the second half, a push off call that caused Penn State coach Pat Chambers to draw a technical.

"I think they were very physical," Chambers said. "Obviously that's why I felt like I needed to get T'd up, my first T in a long, long time."

Big Picture
Penn State: The Nittany Lions had a chance to work their way into the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid by beating Purdue, but now Penn State seems like a long shot at best. Chambers is still hopefully.

"Well, I'm an optimist," he said. "We have NCAA Tournament talent."

Purdue: The Boilermakers hit a rough patch losing three straight close games in early February to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but an argument can be made that they have been the Big Ten's most consistent team this season.

"We had an opportunity to win the Big Ten regular season. We kind of gave that away," said Thompson, one of four senior starters. "But we still had a goal of winning a Big Ten championship on our list before the season started and we put ourselves in position to be able to do that tomorrow."

Purdue does most everything well, except rebound. A night after giving up 17 offensive boards to Rutgers, the Boilermakers allowed 16 rebounds to Penn State.

Shep Shooter
Garner went 4 for 5 from 3-point range, including a four-point play, to carry Penn State in the first half. The Nittany Lions led much of the way, but Edwards made a 3 for Purdue with 2 seconds left in the half to send the Boilermakers to the break ahead 33-31.

Up Next
Penn State: An NIT bid is likely coming the Nittany Lions way, though the big question beyond March is whether Carr returns for another season or heads to the NBA draft.

Purdue: The Boilermakers swept the Wolverines in two games decided by a combined five points.

"Just a really skilled offensive team," Carsen Edwards said. "They have a lot of options. For us it's going to come down to defense and getting stops."