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Penn State 65, Rutgers 64: Survive and Advance

Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. The Lions won.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After leading by 21 points, Penn State let the Scarlet Knights back in the game and found themselves trailing by 2 points with less than a minute to play. Myles Dread hit a 3-point shot to give the Lions the lead and a defensive stop iced it. It was a critical win for the team, as it moves into a tie for second place in the Big Ten.

Jamari Wheeler and Izaiah Brockington each hit 3-pointers early, which helped fill the void left by Myreon Jones, who was out for the 6th game. The Lions led 10-2 at the first break. Five different Penn State players scored before Lamar Stevens got his first basket.

Curtis Jones played 11 minutes in the first half and though he missed his first 3 shots he played solid defense and helped handle the ball, something the team needed badly. Here is a clean steal by Jones made on hustle alone.

Myles Dread hit a deep ball and Mike Watkins a layup and 11 minutes in 8 different Penn State players had scored, leading 23-14. Dread had 7 assists in the first half, this one coming to Watkins to stretch the lead to 14 points.

Dread hit Watkins on a backdoor cut for another dunk on the next trip down the floor to stretch the lead to 33-17 with 5 minutes to go before the half. With 3 minutes to play the lead got to 21 and Rutgers appeared both tired and demoralized. The Scarlet Knights went over 6 minutes without a basket while the Lions shot 50% and made 6 of 13 from behind the arc in the first half.

Rutgers cut into the lead early in the second half with some good shooting while the Lions lost their way on offense, getting as close as 10. Penn State answered back and led 49-35 with 15 minutes to play. Rutgers cut it down to single digits and Pat Chambers called a timeout. Moments later it was a 51-46 game and though the Lions led, momentum was heading the other way.

Rutgers cut the lead to 1 before Lamar Stevens hit a tough shot to end the run. A steal by Myles Dread led to free throws for Stevens, but he missed the front end of a 1 and 1 with 9 minutes to play. Stevens hit a layup to give the team a 55-50 lead on the next trip down the court. It was clear that the ball was going through the senior leader.

Izaiah Brockington left the game midway through the second half with what looked like a leg cramp, and he hit a runner to stretch the lead to 7 and get the crowd back in it inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

John Harrar got a dunk and it was 59-50 with 6 minutes to play. He then had a rebound on the next possession and drew a foul at the other end of the floor, making the front end of a the final one and one to get the lead to 10.

Ron Harper Jr. banked in a 3-point shot and it was 60-55 with 4 minutes to go and the fans became wary, sensing something bad was unfolding. Harrar hit 2 free throws to settle things down. Penn State went 5 minutes without a basket other than at the line.

Akwasi Yeboah hit a 3-point shot, his first points of the night, to cut the lead to 62-60 with 2:20 to play. The two deep balls coinciding with the shooting slump for the Lions drastically changed the complexion of the game. Lamar Stevens turned the ball over on a double team and Rutgers tied the game on the next trip down the court. Things almost got worse when the Lions gave the ball away again, but Jamari Wheeler got a clean block to get the ball back.

The play was huge since it appeared to be a certain dunk and it turned into an empty trip. It gave the Lions a chance to catch their breath and kept the game that much closer.

Lamar Stevens missed 2 free throws seconds later and Rutgers came down and got a basket, taking a 64-62 lead with 38 seconds to play. Myles Dread hit a 3-point shot with a hand in his face for the win off a nice screen by John Harrar.

Random Thoughts

  • Myreon Jones missed his 6th game with illness. The team is 4-2 without him, losing two tight games to projected NCAA Tournament teams. When he returns it will be a huge boost for the entire team.
  • The Lions got their 11th conference win and with it a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There will likely be teams that make it with a 9-11 B1G record and 10 wins may have been enough for Pat Chambers’ team. Fans can breath easier now. There is no longer any doubt. Pack your bags, we’re going dancing!
  • With 3 games to play in Big Ten regular season competition, Penn State trails just one team in the standings and has a chance to earn the top seed in the conference tournament. It’s going to be a tough finish; at Iowa, at home against Michigan State and then on the road against Northwestern. One more B1G win would tie the program record reached by the 1995-96 team.
  • The Lions tied the most regular season wins in program history with their 21st and sit with the 4th-highest total overall. The only 3 teams that topped this output did not make the NCAA Tournament, using deep runs in the NIT to get to 25 (1990) 26 (2018) and 27 (2009).

Up Next

The Lions will travel to Iowa for the toughest remaining road contest of the season. The game will be televised at noon on Saturday by the Big Ten Network. The Hawkeyes lost to Michigan State on Tuesday night and they will be a hard team to beat at home, with a national player of the year candidate in Luka Garza on their side.

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