Penn State made nine of its first 10 shots and were never threatened on the way to a stress-free 77-59 win over Wright State in the semifinals of the Cancun Challenge in Mexico on Tuesday.
The Nittany Lions, who shot 58 percent overall, may be potent offensively, but Raiders coach Scott Nagy believes his team had a hand in making them look so good.
“The players think I’m exaggerating when I say this: We’re one of the worst defenses in the country right now. They had no fear of us. They were so comfortable the whole night, and we did nothing but play with fear,” Nagy said on his postgame radio show.
“Clearly, our guys don’t think (defense) is important. They must think we have enough offense. It’s embarrassing.”
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Wright State (3-2) plays SMU (2-3) in the third-place game of the upper-tier Riviera Division at 6 p.m. Wednesday, while Penn State (3-1) faces Bradley (4-1) for the championship at 8:30 p.m.
The Raiders shot 39.6 percent from the field against the Nittany Lions’ 1-2-2 zone, including 6-of-22 on 3’s. They fell behind by 19 in the first half, trailed by 17 at halftime and never could get closer than 13 after that.
Lamar Stevens, a 6-8 junior forward, scored 25 points to lead four players in double figures for Penn State, which won the NIT last season.
Bill Wampler had 17 points, and Loudon Love had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Raiders, who were outrebounded 32-26. Cole Gentry and Mark Hughes added 11 points apiece, but only two other players scored.
“We brought boys to a men’s game again — just like we did at Murray State,” said Nagy, referring to an earlier 19-point road loss. “In the second half, we at least played hard. But in the first half, we just played scared.
“I talked to the guys, and one of the reasons we got into this tournament and got in the upper bracket is we wanted to challenge our kids. We’ve played enough games where we feel like we belong. But our kids didn’t play like it at all.”
The Raiders, who started 6-for-19 from the field, shot 38.5 percent in the first half and committed 10 of their 15 turnovers. Wampler had 14 of the team’s 28 first-half points. Only three other players scored.
“Right now, we’re what I’d call an average team. You can win games at home. But you get away from home, and you play scared. And it’s not like we’re playing a bunch of freshmen. We’re playing a few. But we have kids who have been through the wars,” Nagy said.
“We’re just a very average team right now and very bad defensively.”
Bradley notched a 75-62 win over SMU in the other Riviera Division semifinal. Elijah Childs, a 6-6 sophomore forward, had a career-high 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead four players in double figures.
The Braves, who won two games at home in the Cancun Challenge before traveling to Mexico, shot 51 percent from the floor and held the Mustangs to 36.5-percent shooting.
SMU was led by guards Jahmal McMurray (19 points) and Jimmy Whitt Jr. (12 points, 13 rebounds).