The result was a 58-49 loss, PSU's 10th straight to start Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions, who have not won since December, dropped to 8-14 overall. Before the game was even over, second-year Penn State coach Pat Chambers implored the men on his bench to not allow the losing streak -- or boos from the stands -- get to them.
“When you go through adversity and challenges and some losing, it's real easy to start finger-pointing and not sticking together,” Chambers said. “…You have to get each other's backs. You have to support each other.”
Heading into this one, guards Jermaine Marshall (15.7) and D.J. Newbill (15.6) were the only Nittany Lions averaging more than 6.3 points per game in Big Ten play. But Marshall suffered through a 2-of-14 shooting performance Tuesday. Newbill, meanwhile, was held to two points (on just two shots) in the first half. By the time he found his scoring stroke -- he finished with 17 points -- PSU was all but out of it.
Playing their fifth game in 13 days, the Boilermakers (12-11, 4-4 Big Ten) lumbered into Tuesday's action having dropped three of their last four. Included in that stretch was a 97-60 home beat-down at the hands of rival Indiana.
In the first half, it looked as if it would be another long night for Purdue. As the Boilers struggled to score, the Lions slowly but surely began to pull away, leading by as many as nine (21-12) when Newbill made his only bucket of the period at the 5:46 mark. Marshall connected on only 1 of 7 shots in the half.
But center Sasa Borovnjak (six points), and forwards Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis (a combined 10) picked up the scoring slack. Center Jon Graham even hit a 15-footer, by far his longest make of the season.
“Other guys stepped up tonight,” Newbill said.
Then Purdue found its footing. Center A.J. Hammons led a rally that cut the PSU lead to 25-24 at the break. The Boilermakers' momentum carried over into the second half. And suddenly nobody for Penn State -- not role players nor stars -- could get anything going.
“I'm gonna tell you where we lost the game -- the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half,” Chambers said.
Super quick rookie guard Ronnie Johnson began to breeze past whatever defense the Lions offered, and his dish to teammate Donnie Hale for a layup with 8:19 left gave Purdue its first double-digit lead of the night (48-37).
At that point, Marshall and Newbill had a combined 14 points. Marshall was 2 of 13 from the field. Newbill had taken only five shots, making three of them.
Marshall had reached double figures in scoring in eight of State's previous nine games but was held to seven Tuesday. Purdue coach Matt Painter said the defensive game plan against him was to switch out on ball screens and, “just try to get the ball out of his hands, contest all shots and not let him get the ball in the paint.”
Chambers chalked Marshall's issues up to simply having a bad night.
In serious foul trouble primarily because the big men struggled to handle Hammons in the paint, Penn State never did make things interesting the rest of the way. Borovnjak, Graham and guard Nick Colella were all disqualified.
“Foul trouble killed us, too,” Chambers said.
Newbill did most of his damage when Purdue was in a sort of prevent defense. The Boilermakers pushed out on the arc to stop triples and it allowed him to slash and score, as he tallied 10 points in the final eight minutes.
But the balanced scoring on display in the first half was gone in the second. Taylor did not tally a point in the final 20 minutes. Borovnjak had one point.
And Marshall never did heat up.
“I don't know what to tell you,” Chambers said. “Jermaine has an average game, who knows, [maybe] we're sitting here with a win. But that's not the case.”
• Overall, Penn State was 19 of 62 from the floor and 2 of 20 from the arc. Marshall and Colella went a combined 1 of 11 on 3-pointers.
• Purdue was not exactly lighting it up, either. The Boilers missed all 10 of their triple attempts and made only 18 of 29 free throws. Yet led by Johnson (16 points) and Hammons (15 points, 12 rebounds), they won with relative ease.
• Newbill had six assists in the first half and seven for the game.
• Penn State committed 24 fouls in the game to Purdue's 14. The Boilermakers had only four fouls in the first half.
• The crowd was listed at 6,270.
• Next up for the Lions is a Saturday road trip to Nebraska. That game tips at 9 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.