Penn State was on the road against a top-30 team playing in a sold-out arena. With the win, Rutgers moves to 3-1 in conference play, good for second place. It wasn’t the outcome that the Lions wanted, but the team competed hard during an uphill battle. Losing a conference road game is not the end of the world, even though it may feel like it is for some fans.
The defense was on display early for both sides, with Rutgers starting out 0 for 9 from the field. Jamari Wheeler was called for two fouls in the first three minutes, one a flagrant on an elbow to the face. Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins had already picked up a foul each, so before the first timeout three Penn State starters were on the bench.
By the under-12 stoppage the Lions’ offense came to life and led 12-6 while forcing 6 turnovers and allowing just one field goal to that point. Watkins had 8 points on 4 of 4 shooting and the lead grew to 18-10 with 7:54 before the half. Stevens went to the bench with his second foul, both called while he was on offense.
Seth Lundy got more first-half playing time than he had all season and he played well, including this pass to Watkins in transition.
Trent Buttrick came in a few minutes before the half, becoming the tenth player to see the floor for Pat Chambers. Rutgers cut the lead to 3 and the crowd inside the RAC got very loud, giving the home team a boost. Watkins hit a pair of free throws to stop the run and then had a dunk a minute later.
It was 33-28 at he half with four Penn State players having missed time with 2 fouls. Mike Watkins led all scorers with 16 points at the break on 7 of 7 shooting from the field, 2 of 2 from the foul line.
Two minutes into the second half Rutgers took the lead 34-33. Pat Chambers called timeout to try to get his team going. Lamar Stevens got his first points of the game at the line to stop the run, tying it at 35 apiece.
Rutgers got their first made three-pointer and a 6-point lead with just under 12 minutes to play. Lamar Stevens answered with a basket on the next trip down the floor. Myreon Jones hit a deep three a minute later to quiet the crowd a bit. He added a layup to cut the lead to 1.
Jones hit a step-back three to give the Lions a 49-47 advantage and boos were coming down from the stands momentarily, it was an 8-0 run in just over a minute. Rutgers recovered and held a 56-53 lead with five minutes to play. They extended the lead to 62-54 with 3:28 to go and the crowd inside the RAC was ecstatic.
The lead continued to grow all the way to 14 as Ron Harper Jr. scored ten points in a row for Rutgers. The Lions did not score a field goal for a five-minute stretch as the game slipped away.
- Seth Lundy came into the game earlier than normal, showing that he may be moving up in the rotation slightly. He played alongside Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins just six minutes in. He had 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 8 minutes played at the half. He did not crack the lineup in the second half.
- The bad news is that Lamar Stevens keeps getting in foul trouble in the first half, forcing him to the bench. The good news is that the Lions have been able to hold on while Stevens is on the bench so far, and as a result, he hasn’t played the load of minutes that he has for much of his career. A lot of his problems come while on offense, so hopefully he can make an adjustment on his end to correct the situation.
- The home court advantage was real tonight. You have to hand it to the Rutgers fans, they showed up and made a difference. We can only hope that the Bryce Jordan Center becomes that type of advantage moving forward for the Lions.
Penn State will host Wisconsin on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. The game will be on the Big Ten Network and will be the first time the Lions will play a conference game as a ranked team in the BJC since the 1990’s. Hopefully the students will show up a little early for the spring semester and fill the stadium as much as possible. It should be a great atmosphere.