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Penn State Basketball: Without Watkins, Nittany Lions Fall 76-64

on February 25, 2018 9:16 PM

The 2011 NCAA Tournament in the eyes of Penn State basketball will always have a bit of a "what if" factor for the Nittany Lions.

Jeff Brooks, Penn State's lanky and super athletic forward, would leave a first round game against Temple with a shoulder injury.

The Owls would win essentially at the buzzer, but the question has often been asked: what if Brooks hadn't gotten hurt?

Nobody will ever know, but Brooks, especially his senior season, was among the best in the Big Ten at what he did and a problem for any defense. In a game decided by the final shot, it's not hard to imagine it going Penn State's way if he had played more significant minutes in the second half.

Nevertheless, that didn't happen.

And on Sunday night Penn State basketball will wonder what if Mike Watkins hadn't gotten hurt in the opening minutes against Michigan days ago. Beating the Wolverines would have been a lot easier, and in a hostile environment at Nebraska the Nittany Lions would have had their defensive anchor and an offensive game changer.

But he didn't play, relegated to watching the game from his bed back at home.

And Penn State didn't win, falling 76-64.

The first half was a 34-17 beatdown by a Nebraska team that is already difficult to beat at home and far more healthy than their counterparts. Tony Carr poured in 27 points, but Shep Garner's and Lamar Stevens' combined 24 points were hardly enough. 

This game, much like Penn State's loss to Michigan, was a reminder that the program's depth is not in scoring as much as capable bodies. Jamari Wheeler and Nazeer Bostick provide an energy spark but little in the way of scoring, with just eight points between the two of them. Beyond that the Nittany Lions have staggeringly little depth at the center position with Julian Moore the only reliable option on the roster and, in spite of his veteran knowledge, he is limited in particular on the offensive end, at least in comparison to Watkins. 

So the Huskers eventual slog toward a double-digit victory in spite of Penn State's occasional best efforts to respond was not a surprise. The Nittany Lions have heart, but without Watkins they are crippled and with Tony Carr doing the bulk of the scoring, they are increasingly easy to bully.

All told the eventual result was not all that surprising and in turn Penn State heads into the Big Ten Tournament with a deserved confidence that is coupled with the sobering reality of what this team is without Watkins.

So much like 2011, 2018 will end asking the same question.

What if?

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