A few minutes into the game, Michigan State led 10-2 and it looked like this might be the sort of laugher we had all expected and hoped to see. But Penn State, very gradually, chipped away at the lead for the rest of the half, thanks in part to MSU's complete inability to make a shot, and got within 2 at the break.
Penn State finally managed to tie the game with a Brandon Taylor free throw just before the 12-minute mark in the second half. From there, a consistent pattern developed: MSU could inch ahead by two or three, but Penn State would immediately answer; if MSU came up empty, the Nittany Lions would be unable to take advantage. For a nearly 12-minute span from the under-16 timeout to the 4-minute mark, MSU never led by more than three but never trailed at all.
At the under-4, Penn State coach Pat Chambers picked up a technical foul for yelling at the refs, but instead of waking up his own team, it was MSU that caught fire, making one of the technical free throws, a Bryn Forbes 3, and a steal leading to a Travis Trice layup to extend the lead to 8. MSU's free throw shooting, which to that point in the game had been actually fairly good for a change, completely disappeared, allowing Penn State to cut into the deficit again. But D.J. Newbill, with a chance to make it a two-point game from the free throw line after making a number of circus shots, returned the favor by missing two free throws as well. Denzel Valentine iced the game by making two, and that was that.
It was a balanced scoring night for the Spartans: Branden Dawson led the way with 12, Valentine and Gavin Schilling scored 11, Trice and Matt Costello added 10, and Forbes had 9. Dawson and Schilling each posted a double-double as well, adding 10 rebounds apiece, and Dawson added three blocks and two steals (Schilling one of each). Penn State was the opposite of balanced, as Newbill put in 45% of his team's 60 points. It wasn't a particularly efficient 27, though, as it required 26 shot equivalents (22 FG, 8 FT).
eFG: PSU 50%, MSU 46.3%
OR: MSU 47.1%, PSU 25.8%
Turnovers: 20.6% each (13 in 63 possessions)
Free throw rate: PSU 46.8 (59.1% conversion rate), MSU 46.3 (64% conversion rate)
Fair to say this game was won on the glass. MSU couldn't buy a basket for a large chunk of the second half, but numerous second chance opportunities - and the turnover numbers leveling out after a bad first half - saved the day.
There's plenty for MSU to improve on after tonight, but as far as the selection committee is concerned, a win is a win, and a potential disaster is averted.