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Penn State 66, Rutgers 65: Not This Time

The Nittany Lions Finally Catch a Break in the Closing Seconds

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

This had the makings of a blow-out after the first half, but ended up coming down to the final seconds due to a valiant effort by the Scarlet Knights. Penn State led by as much as 20 early in the second half, but Rutgers would not give up. The Scarlet Knights used stifling defense, offensive rebounding and a spurt of 3-pt shots to give Penn State everything they could handle in the final minutes.

With the road team leading 66-65, Rutgers had multiple attempts to take the lead in the closing seconds of the game. For once, the Nittany Lions caught a break.

A tale of two halves, both teams started out slowly, with a 9-8 Penn State lead taking us into the under-12 media timeout. Stevens hadn’t yet found his shot and the three-pointers weren’t falling for the visitors, while Rutgers struggled to find much of anyone other than at the charity stripe. A 21-6 run by Penn State gave them a 16-point lead with just over four minutes to play in the first half. Josh Reaves’ defense and Myreon Jones’ offense helped to supplement Lamar’s standard production to build the sizable lead. Mike Watkins also stepped up with one of his best halves of the season (8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks).

After the opening minutes, the first half was a display of dominance by the Nittany Lions playing as they have throughout much of February and March so far. The second half showed us the faults we’re all too accustomed to as Rutgers turned a 20 point deficit into a nail-biter.

Josh Reaves had to sit at 17:08 in the half, but Myreon Jones came in and immediately helped the offense find some life. Still, Reaves’ presence on defense was missed. Rutgers was able to claw back in thanks to offensive rebounding and turnovers leading to fast break opportunities. They closed the gap further when they started hitting a few threes. Watkins’ first half performance on offense didn’t carry over at all into the second half, and Penn State had almost no scoring outside of Stevens ISOs and a few timely treys by the freshmen.

Every time Penn State hit a shot to slow the Rutgers momentum in the second half, Rutgers had an answer. Missed shots leading to offensive rebounds and/or fouls by Penn State were crucial in helping the home team gain extra possessions as the visitors tried to hang on to their lead.

It wasn’t pretty down the stretch, but Bolton and Reaves provided huge buckets in the final minutes. Reaves also blocked a shot with 1:03 remaining that helped to keep Rutgers from taking a lead in the end. Penn State couldn’t make anything work in the final minute, but they harassed the Scarlet Knights enough to escape with the win despite giving them four shots to take the lead.

Here is the final possession for the Scarlet Knights.

Four Factors

This ended up being the defensive struggle we expected even though the path to get there was less predictable. Turnovers were the story of the game, as they led to easy baskets for both sides. Penn State had a 4-8 advantage at the half, and ended up at 12-11.

Player of the Game

Lamar is an obvious choice at this point in the season, while Myreon Jones flashed his versatility tonight. Jones provided a few key baskets when the offense started to stagnate, and his ability to create his own shot shows his potential.

Random Observations

  • Perspective - The second half was brutal. Penn State was outscored 46-29 on the road. But let’s remember how well they played in the opening 20 minutes. Rutgers has some impressive wins this year, and Penn State nearly ran them out of the gym in the first half. There’s plenty to improve upon, but a win is a win.
  • Senior Night - The sellout home crowd was impressive tonight, and I’d like to think Josh Reaves and Deivis Zemgulis deserve a similar send-off (with a better result) on Sunday. Whether or not he gets one is partly up to you.
  • Jamari Wheeler - Easily missed in the box score for Penn State is the 0 for Rutgers’ #2 scorer Gio Baker. Wheeler never got anything going on offense, but limiting a player who averages 13 points to a donut is quite a mark.
  • Pink & Black - The alternate jersey nearly became cursed tonight as the lead slipped away, but they leave with a 4-0 record for the season. It’s only a matter of time before the team makes the switch permanent (preferably before the Big Ten Tournament next week).

Looking Ahead

Penn State will return to the Bryce Jordan Center this Sunday for the regular season finale against Illinois. Both teams will be fighting for their final seeding in the Big Ten tournament. The game will tip off at Noon ET and will air on FS1.