Coming off their biggest win of the young season against Maryland, many wondered whether this Penn State team would continue with that momentum, or face-plant against an Alabama team that while pesky, is clearly going through a transition year under first-year head coach Nate Oats.
While it sure seemed like it was going to be another classic case of PSU hoops following up a huge win with a just a hugely disappointing loss for much of the afternoon, the Nittany Lions were able to put it together in the final five minutes, re-claiming a lead they would never relinquish, and winning 73-71.
Mike Watkins opened up the scoring with an easy layup, this was followed by a quick three-pointer and dunk for Bama, which prompted a timeout by Pat Chambers just 80 seconds into the game. Myles Dread would tie the game with a triple shortly thereafter, and PSU would jump out to a 9-5 lead, before Alabama utilizing their tempo and taking advantage of poor shooting from PSU, went on a 10-2 run in the next four minutes of action.
Penn State kept this one from getting too far out of hand in the first half, thanks to Alabama’s fouling issues, taking full advantage from the free throw line by going 10-for-13. Myreon Jones also emerged as the team’s top scorer, racking up 12 points in the first half. Another deep 14-1 run by Bama allowed the Tide build their lead up to as high as nine points before PSU was able to whittle the deficit down to four, before Bama scored on a last-second bucket before the half ended, taking a 40-34 lead to the locker room.
The second half saw both Myreon and Curtis Jones carrying the scoring load, but PSU taking on a Sisyphean task of being right on the doorstep of reclaiming the lead, but not quite able to burst through the door. A Myles Dread three-pointer tied the game up at 57, before Bama would get a pair of buckets to push the lead back to four.
PSU finally broke through, however, when Lamar Stevens completed an old-fashioned and-one play to give PSU a one-point lead, followed by forcing a jump ball situation with a the possession arrow favoring PSU, followed by hitting an elbow jumper to give PSU a 66-63 lead with five minutes to play as Zombie Nation blared through the BJC.
Bama would not allow PSU to pull away however, despite Lamar adding an additional bucket to put PSU up 68-63 w/4:17 left. The Crimson Tide would twice cut PSU’s lead down to one, including 72-71 with 50 seconds left and having possession with a chance to reclaim the lead. A clutch block by Lamar however, thwarted those plans, but on the ensuing fast break for PSU, instead of running down some clock to work for a good shot, PSU threw a cross-court pass to Watkins, who seemingly got away with a charge that was instead whistled a foul on Bama with 31 seconds left. Watkins would miss both free throws, giving the Tide yet another chance to take the lead, but Watkins would come up with a steal, getting fouled with 12.5 seconds left and a chance at redemption from the line.
Watkins would hit the first, but miss the second free throw, giving Bama a shot to either tie with a basket, or win with a three-pointer. After PSU used their last foul to give, Bama had the ball on the sideline near PSU’s basket with five seconds left, but Lamar played absolute lock-down defense on Alabama’s Alex Reese, forcing Reese to throw up a wild shot that hit the top of the backboard that was whistled out of bounds, and PSU ball with eight-tenths of a second remaining.
It wouldn’t be a true PSU hoops experience however, without having to sweat out every last tenth of a second, as PSU threw a long pass straight into the hands of a Bama player at about mid-court, but the Tide’s mid-court prayer fell short, preserving the clutch comeback victory.
PPP and Four Factors
PSU struggled to shoot the ball all day, shooting only 32% in the first half, and 36% overall. They also turned the ball over 16 times to Bama’s ten. The true difference-maker in this one, were opportunities at the free throw line, as Bama got themselves into foul trouble early and often. PSU converted 19 of their 26 FT opportunities, while the Tide only hit eight of their 14 attempts.
- There seems to be a recurring theme thus far in this young season of PSU winning games they probably would’ve otherwise lost in previous years. Chalk this win up as another such game.
- Did anyone else’s heart skip a beat when they saw Watkins walking gingerly on his foot at the end of the game? Turns out he just landed on another Bama player’s foot going up for a rebound on Bama’s final possession, and the injury doesn’t seem like anything serious. Thankfully, PSU is off until next Friday, with Finals Week coming up.
- It’s no surprise to see Myreon Jones have another solid outing, but how about Curtis Jones stepping up to the plate today? Before Lamar got going in the second half, Curtis helped filled in the scoring void to keep this game from becoming a double-digit deficit for PSU. Couldn’t be happier for the kid.
- With today’s win, combined with the victory over Maryland, there is a decent chance PSU could break into the AP Top 25 poll next week. The last time the Nittany Lions were ranked? March 12, 1996, right before the NCAA Tournament which PSU played in that year as a No. 5 seed.
Penn State (9-2, 1-1) will host Central Connecticut State (0-9, ranked 350th out of 353 teams in KenPom) on Friday, December 20th at the BJC. Tip-off will be at 6:00 PM ET on BTN.