College basketball games are divided into two halves, and that makes it easier to craft a narrative around a game. In some cases, that's not the best way to discuss a game, but in this case, it's the only way to discuss the game. In the first half of its 79-63 loss to Michigan State on Tuesday, Penn State looked like the team that its fans had been waiting for since Pat Chambers took over for Ed DeChellis two years ago.
Sure, the Lions weren't great on defense, but they forced a bunch of turnovers that led to easy baskets and put their newly discovered shooting ability on display when forced to run a halfcourt offense. On the strength of 47-percent shooting and great performances from D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor, PSU jumped out to a 47-40 halftime lead.
The second half -- as if it weren't obvious enough -- was a different story. Well, the poor defense remained, but everything else had changed. Gone were the three-pointers and easy buckets in transition. In their place were missed shots, stagnant sets, and easy buckets for the Spartans. MSU started the half on a 20-6 run, and coasted to a win that was much easier than expected considering the message sent by Penn State in the first half.
After a non-conference slate in which the Lions scored at will but had trouble slowing down opponents, I expected them to have games that went like the first half versus Michigan State and games that went like the second half against Michigan State. I just didn't think that both games would happen during the same evening.
"You show the positive half and say, look what we can be, look what we could become," said head coach Pat Chambers after the game, "It's a long season. It's only one game. We'll get up tomorrow, we'll watch film, and we'll do what we're supposed to do."
It's only appropriate that Penn State used a volatile loss to say hello to a month that was named after a two-faced god. We'll see during the rest of the Big Ten schedule which of the faces the Lions showed on New Year's Eve is part of their present, and which is part of its past.
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