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What We Learned: Penn State Nittany Lions 68, Michigan State Spartans 76

What we can take away from the Spartans’ big comeback victory over the Nittany Lions.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State was able to rally in the second half to overcome a double-digit deficit and knock off Penn State, 76-68, at the Breslin Center. With the win, the Spartans improve to 21-3 overall and 9-2 in the Big Ten, while the Nittany Lions drop to 15-9 and 5-6 in league play.

Penn State was by far the better team in the opening frame, leading by as many as 10 points. However, a late surge by the Spartans would cut into that lead, with the Nittany Lions holding a 30-24 advantage at halftime. Penn State started the second half off hot and built a 12-point lead before Michigan State put together a string of stretches that added up to a 41-14 run that propelled the Spartans to a victory.

Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston played a huge role in the Spartans’ second half run. Bridges finished the night with 23 points and nine rebounds, while Winston recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists. Penn State’s Tony Carr led all scorers with 28 points.

Let’s take a look a few notes from tonight’s thrilling Spartans’ comeback victory over Penn State.

What We Learned:

1) Spartan turnovers make every game interesting

If we are being technical, the turnovers issue is not something we learned in tonight’s game. It’s been something the Spartans have dealt with all season long. However, it has determined that almost every game from here and out will be interesting because Michigan State simply keeps teams in games with their abundance of turnovers.

Michigan State committed nine first half turnovers, which actually matched the number of field goals made by the Spartans in that frame. The Spartans would go on to have seven second half turnovers to finish the game with a grand total of 16. That simply won’t cut it for a team that is looking to make a Final Four run.

The turnovers have been something I’ve harped on throughout this entire season, and tonight it nearly cost Michigan State the game. Other factors played a role too — poor shooting early on and foul trouble for some key players — but the achilles heel for the Spartans is turnovers and it’s not going away. So with that, don’t expect too many games that aren’t at least interesting at some point in the second half moving forward.

2) Penn State is good, but maybe not NCAA Tournament good

Wednesday night was the definition of a missed opportunity for a team like Penn State that is trying to build a resume for the NCAA Tournament. However, it was also evidence that the Nittany Lions are a team that’s just not good enough to go dancing.

Losing at Michigan State is no reason to be embarrassed. Only a handful of teams can go in and beat the Spartans in the Breslin Center. So that makes it even worse that Penn State blew a 12-point second half lead on Wednesday, and proved they are a good team but just not good enough to make it in March.

Carr is an All-Big Ten talent and will keep the Nittany Lions in games. Mike Watkins is great in the post too, but his foul situation really hurt Penn State against the Spartans. When he sat on the bench, it highlighted the lack of depth Penn State has and makes me wonder if they will be able to do enough down the stretch to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

3) Michigan State needs more consistency to be elite

Michigan State’s talent is there, and for a second straight game it saved them to pick up a conference win. But this team needs to be more consistent moving forward.

The Spartans had a second straight lackluster opening half on Wednesday night, and this time it nearly cost them. The Spartans were just straight up bad in the first half, and looked equally terrible to start the second half. However, they eventually turned it on and they were able to overpower the Nittany Lions off their pure talent.

Tonight’s win is important for Michigan State because it keeps them alive for the Big Ten title. A loss would have effectively ended those chances because Purdue isn’t losing three games with how well they’re playing. But this wasn’t a great performance by any means. Michigan State needs to find more consistency moving forward otherwise their season could come to a screeching halt in the NCAA Tournament.

Overall

Both teams shouldn’t be really happy leaving the arena tonight. Michigan State should feel relieved they survived and remained alive for a Big Ten title, while Penn State should feel like they let one slip through their fingers.

Moving forward, Michigan State is going to need to find more consistency. I’ve given up on the turnover troubles, but they need to find a way to not be so up-and-down between halves. I’m also losing more and more hope in this team’s chances of winning at least a share of this league, and tonight didn’t help.

For Penn State, this one should make Nittany Lions’ fans feel sick. They gave up a great opportunity to pad their NCAA Tournament resume, and if they are sitting outside the field on March 11 then they can look back at this game. However, Penn State is lucky enough to still have some big games on their schedule, and if they can play a complete game then they’ll have a chance to win some of those matchups.