UNIVERSITY PARK - Building a basketball reputation at football school has its appeals and its drawbacks. Win a big game? Hope people pay attention. Lose a tough one? At least eyeballs focused elsewhere.
Penn State lived this out Sunday night at the Bryce Jordan Center in its 72-70 loss to the Mississippi Rebels.
Nittany Lion football supporters spent Sunday night wondering how and why their team slipped down to the Ticket City Bowl. Nittany Lion basketball supporters, all roughly 5,000 of them in attendance and those watching on live sports programming to precede the Big Ten Network's bowl special, saw a scrappy overall effort fall just short.
A victory would have been Penn State's third against a power conference school in the non-conference schedule, its highest total since joining the Big Ten. But missed 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds by Tim Frazier and Cammeron Woodyard kept the Nittany Lions (6-3) from taking one last lead.
Frazier's try, from the top of the key with 21 seconds to play and no shot clock, fell short. Frazier said it was a shot he wanted, and first-year coach Pat Chambers said it was a good decision by his junior point guard.
"He's the best player, and he's got to learn how to make plays at the end," said Chambers. "I'm going with him."
The Lions regained possession after Jarvis Summers missed a free throw, and Frazier kept the Lions alive by calling timeout before falling out of bounds away from a 3-player baseline trap with 6 seconds to go. Woodyard missed an open baseline 3 before time expired.
The Rebels (7-1) went ahead 72-70 after a Summers cut and free throw off a Sasa Borovnjak foul with 34 seconds to play. Summers, a freshman guard, led all players with 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting.
"Defensively we played hard, but give Ole Miss credit," said Frazier. "It came down to the last couple of possessions and they put it through."
Frazier led the Lions with 17 points and 9 assists, but also committed 5 turnovers. Jermaine Marshall, making his first career start next to Frazier, scored 10. Borovnjak and Woodyard scored 15 and 10, respectively, making them the first pair of Lions with double digits off the bench this season.
Borovnjak's opportunities are expected to remain significant as Chambers said forward Jon Graham will likely be out another two weeks with mononucleosis. Chambers said Borovnjak was capable of 8-12 points per game.
Penn State held the game's biggest lead at 48-40 with 13:18 to play before Ole Miss' Nick Williams and Dundrecous Nelson keyed an 8-point run to tie.
The Rebels needed early shooting from those two and Summers early, Their inside shots weren't falling but Ole Miss started 4-for-6 from the 3-point line and finished with a season-high 11 treys.
"Trust me, it's an aberration," said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. "Jarvis going 4-for-5? The kid has moxie, in only his fourth or fifth college start to play an opponent like that in an unfriendly environment."
Kennedy said his team relies more on penetration, which he said only happened to create open long-range looks instead of finding open lanes.
However, the Rebels' inside presence did not match up to the Lions for rebounding, as PSU more than held its own with a 34-30 edge and 12 offensive rebounds.
"I give Pat's team credit for being tenacious and throwing bodies around. They had us outweighed and we had to use athleticism to out-quick them to the ball," said Kennedy. "We waited for them to come ot us. We were getting outrebounded by about 10 with 4-5 minutes play and we needed a few to escape."
Chambers, whose team hosts Lafayette Wednesday, liked the gradual improvement since earlier losses to Kentucky and St. Joseph's but that was not enough.
"I feel like we should have won the game. There are no moral victories," said Chambers. "They made the plays down the stretch, and we didn't. I need to do a better job. Put the blame on me."