Continuing our look at the past decade of Penn State men’s basketball, this time looking at the 10 best games. This list includes games that were flat-out fun to watch quality basketball, and some that were, well, not that. Some of these games highlight turning points in the program’s trajectory and may require the context of the moment to fully appreciate, whereas others have standalone value highlighting some great performances by past players. Much like the decade was for this program, this list starts off sour and ends on a bright note.
No. 10: Temple 66, Penn State 64
2010-11 NCAA Tournament, First Round
In a decade with one appearance in March Madness, you can’t leave this off the list. While it ended in disappointment, Penn State’s first-round match-up against an in-state foe was one of the most highly anticipated games in the 20th century for the hoops team. It was also the culmination of several players’ time in State College (Jeff Brooks, David Jackson, Talor Battle, and Andrew Jones), and while we didn’t know it at the time, the end of the Ed DeChellis Era as well.
No. 9: Penn State 79, #4 Iowa 75
2015-16 Regular Season, Bryce Jordan Center
The middle of the decade was full of teams that struggled to match their Big Ten competition for an entire season. After Pat Chambers first few years at Penn State, the team started to churn out a signature upset win, or two in the back-half of the conference schedule. The key in this game was Donovan Jack’s 19-point performance coupled with some quality defensive plays adding much-needed support to Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor’s production.
No. 8: Penn State 36, Wisconsin 33
2010-11 Big Ten Tournament, Quarterfinal
Who could forget this legendary display of college basketball? In true Penn State form, this grueling 40-minutes with more bricks than the Indianapolis 500 was crucial to the 2010-11 team earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t pretty, and it won’t go down as one of Talor Battle’s career best games, but it kept the team alive and allowed them to build their tournament resume with a win over Ohio State the next day.
YouTube appears to have done the world a favor, removing any official video accounts of this game from their website. If you want to suffer through this again you’ll have to seek it out yourself.
No. 7: Penn State 75, Mississippi State 60
2017-18 NIT Semi-final
It might seem strange to leave the title game off the list, but I did so to highlight the dominant play of this team during their late-season run. Snubbed by the NCAA Tournament, the team looked down-and-out for much of their first-round match-up against Temple (again). A furious comeback kept them in the NIT, where each game they picked up steam. Playing in Madison Square Garden against a quality Mississippi State team, the Nittany Lions left no doubt that they were superior. After watching this game I had no doubt they would handle Utah in the championship, and was proven right with a 82-66 win. A dominant finish for one of the best teams of the decade.
No. 6: Penn State 69, #13 Ohio State 68
2017-18 Big Ten Tournament, Quarterfinal
Not all of the games on this list were both meaningful and a joy to watch (see No’s 8 & 10), but this one was both, and went down to the wire. Josh Reaves’ slam-dunk to give Penn State the lead with 3 seconds remaining sealed the deal, and gave the Nittany Lions 3 wins over Ohio State in the season. Tony Carr shined in this one delivering the pass to Reaves on the winning play, and finishing with 25 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. In true form, Shep Garner came up with a gutsy steal seconds before the winning play. Goosebumps.
No. 5: Penn State 63, #13 Virginia Tech 62
2018-19, Big Ten - ACC Challenge, Bryce Jordan Center
This game didn’t hold up as well through the course of the season due to some key injuries on the Virginia Tech side, but I still view it as a turning point for the program. The departure of Shep Garner to graduation, and Tony Carr to pursue a professional career left some doubting how competitive the 2018-19 team would be. At home, in a rare Big Ten - ACC challenge match-up featuring a ranked opponent, Penn State came out on top. The returning group of Lamar Stevens, Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins played well; but it was the incoming freshmen that had key contributions to make the win possible. Myreon Jones flashed his potential in a mostly quiet freshman season with 18 points off the bench, and Rasir Bolton added 11 more.
No. 4: Penn State 84, #4 Michigan 78
Another artifact from the era of sneaky upset wins late in the season, this one was one of the most surprising. The trio of DJ Newbill, Ross Travis, and Jermaine Marshall combined for 57 points to knock-off Michigan at home. The Nittany Lions came into the game 0-14 in conference play, including an 8-point loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor 10 days prior. The Wolverines would go on to reach the National Championship game, only to fall to Louisville.
No. 3: #22 Penn State 75, #16 Michigan State 70
2019-20, Regular Season, Breslin Center, East Lansing
Upset wins are fun, but there was nothing better than watching Penn State go on the road to face Michigan State and wondering if it really was an upset. The Nittany Lions went toe-to-toe with the Spartans, leading for the better portion of the game as Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones scored just enough to overcome a heroic performance by Cassius Winston. This win gave Penn State a 7-4 conference record and kept them in the running for a regular season conference championship. Unfortunately, the loss of Myreon Jones to illness over the ensuing weeks proved to be more than the title hopes could take.
No. 2: Penn State 72, Michigan State 63
2016-17, Regular Season, The Palestra, Philadelphia
A game scheduled to give Penn State’s corps groups of Philadelphia-based players a chance to shine in their hometown, serve as a recruiting promotion, and hearken in the best recruiting class in program history - there was a lot more on the line here than an average opener to conference play, and it couldn’t have gone much better. Penn State’s heralded freshmen class out-dueled Michigan State, with Mike Watkins, Lamar Stevens, and Tony Carr all scoring double-digits.
No. 1: #21 Penn State 89, #23 Iowa 86
2019-20, Regular Season, The Palestra, Philadelphia
The “okay we’re ranked, but can we stay ranked?” game was a thriller from start to finish. Benefiting greatly from a return to the raucous atmosphere of a sold-out Palestra, this game was one you could rope non-Penn State hoops into watching. This was not your 36-33 rock fight win of yesteryear. Iowa’s starting lineup played an outstanding game, with 34 points from Luka Garza, 18 from Joe Toussaint and 23 from Joe Wieskamp; but the Hawkeyes were undermined by the depth of the Nittany Lions. Izaiah Brockington broke the team out of each first-half slump they ran into, finishing with 23 points; while Curtis Jones caught fire late in the game hitting four key 3-pointers on his way to an 18 point night.