Penn State made one of its last 10 shots. It also hit just two of its last 16 3-point-attempts. But thanks in part to five early 3-pointers, the Nittany Lions (6-6) took a commanding 23-9 lead, only to see Alabama counter with its best run of the season.
Sparked by graduate student Riley Norris, who missed the start of the season after having a cardiac ablation procedure for an abnormal heart rhythm, the Crimson Tide went on 24-0 run over 7:25.
Down 33-27 at halftime, Penn State had yet to shoot a free throw (Alabama was 3 of 5) and leading scorer Lamar Stevens had been limited to just four points. The junior forward finished with 12 points, which was enough to move into the Nittany Lions’ top 20 of all-time scoring, but he was 6 of 19 from the field, missed all six of his 3-point attempts and had five turnovers in 39 minutes.
“They’re long,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said about Alabama’s defense. “I think sometimes we get stagnant, though.”
Penn State did manage to come back and last led 54-53 with 7:58 remaining before Alabama pulled away. Trent Buttrick topped the Nittany Lions with a career-high 13 points.
Alabama won its second game at Coleman Coliseum against a Power 5 conference opponent in 12 days, having defeated Arizona 76-73 on Dec. 9. They also came on the heels of a collapse against Georgia State, 83-80, when the Crimson Tide blew a 21-point lead at home on Dec. 4.
“I still have a bad taste in my mouth,” Johnson said. “Give (the players) credit that they were able to bounce back, not drop their heads. That didn’t look like the same team that played three weeks ago when we gave up that lead.”
HE SAID IT
“We complained too much in the first half. That was my halftime speech. I didn’t like how we complained but not getting the calls. That’s not our DNA. We did a better job of just staying focused in the second half.” Johnson said after Alabama was called for 11 fouls compared to 20 for the Nittany Lions, who made all five of their free-throw attempts.
Hall had two of the biggest emotional moments in the game. One was on a powerful dunk that brought the 10,142 fans to their feet. The other was taking a loose ball and making a no-look pass to Mack, who promptly drained one of his two 3-pointers. When asked if he taught Hall that pass, Johnson was quick to answer “no.”
With both programs looking like they could be bubble-destined for the NCAA Tournament, the outcome could end up being worth a lot more than just a regular win. Although Penn State is off to a 0-2 start in Big Ten play, the Nittany Lions came in eighth nationally in nonconference strength of schedule. As a league, the Big Ten is 3-2 against the SEC this season.
Penn State hosts UMBC to wrap up its nonconference schedule on Dec. 29.
Alabama will visit Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 30 to complete a home-and-home series.
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