By Kevin Sweeney
After 3 straight strong performances, optimism was starting to grow for Penn State.
Today was a different story.
The Nittany Lions were dominated from the opening tip by a Cincinnati team that played with palpable frustration following Saturday’s tough loss to Rhode Island. Kyle Washington continued his impressive first season with the Bearcats, posting a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Cincinnati stifled the Penn State offense in the first half, allowing just 10 points in the first 17:00 of the game. The Bearcats’ outstanding length and athleticism showed up on the defensive end, where Penn State was unable to drive to the basket. The Nittany Lions were forced to settle for jump shots, and shot just 3-14 on shots outside the paint in the opening period. Meanwhile, Cincinnati used a balanced scoring attack to extend as much as a 22 point lead in the first half. A 9-2 spurt in the final 3 minutes of the half by Penn State gave them some semblance of life, trailing by 15 at the break.
Any hope of a comeback for the Nittany Lions quickly dissipated at the beginning of the second half, as the Bearcats quickly reclaimed control of the game in the opening stages of the period. Washington controlled the offensive glass, giving the Bearcats numerous second chance point opportunities. Penn State never got the deficit below 15 in the second half, and Cincinnati cruised to an easy victory to claim 3rd place in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.
Bright spots are hard to find for the Nittany Lions, but the play of guard Shep Garner was impressive. He recorded 20 points in the game, and was named to the all-tournament team for his efforts.
Penn State will look to rebound on Wednesday vs Colgate, while Cincinnati will also play Wednesday, at home against Samford.