Penn State takes down Minnesota

UNIVERSITY PARK — Despite the immense amount of success that the No. 22 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions have found this season, it was no secret that some tests were coming.

On Saturday the Nittany Lions (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten) showcased their ability to find a way to battle adversity and grab a win at the same time by exorcising some demons from past seasons in an 83-77 win over visiting Minnesota (12-11, 6-7 Big Ten) in a Big Ten men’s basketball contest inside a sold-out Bryce Jordan Center.

The Nittany Lions watched as their 19-point lead with 13:57 left to play became just three points with 4:48 remaining, but a late run by Penn State held off the hard-charging Golden Gophers who scored 55 second-half points in the loss. The Gophers’ Marcus Carr scored 18 of his 20 points in the half and led a high-powered Minnesota offense that shot 54.1 percent in the half to mount a furious comeback.

In the past, Saturday was a game that Penn State would’ve lost. Earlier this season, the Nittany Lions fell to Ole Miss after holding a 21-point lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Penn State coach Pat Chambers believed that his team got the message after that game.

“Those shared experiences are vital,” Chambers said. “We felt so horrific after that loss. It was awful, but you can’t waste a failure, you can’t waste a setback, and we didn’t. We learned from that. Tonight, although we didn’t execute the one-press break, that’s totally fine. We’re learning what we need to do to tighten things up into game situations, but that Ole Miss game, trust me I think about Ole Miss. I follow Ole Miss and make sure they’re competing at least, winning some games, but we definitely learned from that.”

Lamar Stevens was spectacular on Saturday, as the senior forward put together an entertaining battle with Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu, one of the Big Ten’s top forwards. Stevens notched a career-high 33 points to go along with seven rebounds while Oturu scored 32 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

Stevens more than filled the void left by Myreon Jones’ absence due to an illness for the Nittany Lions, as Stevens scored when he needed to and helped bury the Gophers late in the second half.

“Lamar had that look in his eye that a senior gets. He knows, not that you’re running out of time, but you’re running out of games and we have to keep winning, and if you want to find success, this is what we need to do,” Chambers said. “Tonight, he scored, but other nights he didn’t score and he’s still leading and still defending and still rebounding. I think that’s the biggest difference. He’s really playing both sides.”

Penn State built up a big lead after a substantial run at the end of the first half carried into the first six minutes of the second half.

It was Penn State’s defensive effort that set the tone, as the Nittany Lions forced a shot-clock violation with 7:02 left in the first half with a 24-16 lead. John Harrar and Jamari Wheeler forced Minnesota defenders into mistakes before Stevens deflected a pass away that was corralled by the Gophers. The buzzer sounded forcing the turnover.

The play led Penn State to a 21-12 run that covered a 9:44 span with 15:53 left to play, giving the Nittany Lions a 19-point lead.

Harrar and Wheeler caused issues for the Gophers throughout the first half on the defensive side of the ball. The exclamation point came on a dunk with 1:32 left in the first half when Harrar and Wheeler forced Tre’ Williams into a turnover and Harrar threw the ball ahead to Izaiah Brockington for a ferocious slam that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.

“I do think Jamari [Wheeler] and John [Harrar] did a really good job on these guys frustrating them and taking them out of rhythm in certain situations,” Chambers said. “John’s ball screen defense was unbelievable for most of the game. In the second half we let [Marcus] Carr split it or get out of it and that’s where they got a couple weak side threes.”

Oturu carried the load offensively in the first half, but it was Carr who scored 18 of Minnesota’s 22 points in a dominant display of scoring to cut the lead to eight with 10:21 left to play.

A 3-pointer by Gabe Kalscheur cut the lead to 71-68, before Stevens grabbed control of the game as it started to slip. Stevens willed his way into the lane and was fouled, bumping his scoring total up to 29 points with 4:06 left to play.

Stevens found Myles Dread on Penn State’s next possession as the struggling sophomore guard nailed a clutch 3-pointer from the wing to put Penn State up nine with 3:13 left to play. The Gophers never recovered from the blow. Dread returned to the starting lineup with Jones’ absence.

“He’s got to play with confidence,” Chambers said of Dread. “I’ve seen a different pep in his step, so to speak. He seems like his confidence is there and that’s why I put him in the starting lineup. I feel like his defense is solid. He’s rebounding the ball, he communicates out there the entire time, and I just felt like his three looks really good, and he should be shooting with confidence, so it was an easy choice to put him back in here.”

Brockington finished with 10 points while Harrar had eight points, seven rebounds and a team-leading four assists while Mike Watkins sat for the majority of the night with foul trouble. Lundy also scored eight points.

The victory puts Penn State just a game behind Maryland for first in the Big Ten standings.

Chambers believes that the game was just a glimpse into what Penn State has done over its six-game winning streak and what could be on the horizon if the Nittany Lions continue to play the way they are capable of.

“I think it shows the maturity of this team, all the crazy experiences that we’ve been through over Lamar and Mike’s career are starting to pay off,” Chambers said. “I’m talking to these guys in huddles — what they see out there, what they feel out there, what’s working out there –and getting really mature feedback and that’s how we’re finding success. Everybody’s got to share the ball and begin to step up, but the fact that we were able to find a way over some tough stretches over the last couple weeks here, to go 6-0 is important to us as we try to be the best team that we could be and down the stretch.”

The Nittany Lions travel to face Purdue on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.