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Penn State holds on to top Rutgers

From staff reports

UNIVERSITY PARK – The Penn State men’s basketball team absorbed a late surge by Rutgers to pick up its first Big Ten win with a 75-67 final Thursday night.

Led by 17 points each from junior guards Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington, the Nittany Lions were buoyed by the efforts of sophomore Seth Lundy, who recorded his first career double-double with 16 points and a career-best 10 rebounds.

“I’m really proud of this group of guys,” said interim coach Jim Ferry. “This is a tough league; we’ve been in battles we haven’t won. We’ve lost a couple down the stretch, including a tough one at Illinois. I think our guys really showed the character that we see every single day. I thought we had unbelievable leadership from Jamari (Wheeler) and John (Harrar). I thought our guys really looked connected today. We really defended as a team, this was our best defensive game. We were locked in. We played disciplined, we played without fouling and we rebounded the ball…For us to come out and do it and then win, I think it shows the guys are really excited about it and buying in. I thought everyone really stepped up today.”

Penn State never trailed in the game, getting out to a quick start by shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the first half. Rutgers used 51.3 percent shooting in the second half, including a 6-of-6 mark over four minutes midway through the period, to make its run and cut the lead down to four points.

The Scarlet Knights countered Nittany Lion baskets with their own, but couldn’t get closer than four points down the stretch. With about a minute to play and down by four, Rutgers was forced to foul and send the Nittany Lions to the free throw line. Rutgers couldn’t convert its final two field goal attempts and Jones canned two more free throws with four seconds left for the final.

Jones caught fire in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points in that period, including the first six points after the break to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to 40-25. Rutgers clawed back into the game with its 11-0 run with field goals from five different Scarlet Knights. Penn State made four straight free throws on back-to-back possessions to half the run and put the Nittany Lions back up by double-digits, 58-47.

Several key offensive sets and buckets by senior forwards John Harrar and Trent Buttrick, and Brockington and Jones down the stretch kept Rutgers from gaining any more momentum.

With the Nittany Lions leading by four with 1:57 to play, Jones showed his tenacity. He finished 5-of-6 from the foul line to secure the win prior to the Nittany Lions’ matchup with Northwestern on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions were the aggressors to open the game, jumping out to an early 15-4 lead in the first seven minutes of play. Junior guard Sam Sessoms had nine first-half points off the bench to paced the Nittany Lions with Lundy and Brockington close behind with eight each.

Rutgers used a 5-0 run to pull within six of the Nittany Lions before Sessoms drilled the Nittany Lions’ first trey of the game nearly nine minutes into the game. Senior Jamari Wheeler followed up by picking the pocket of a Rutgers’ ball handler. Wheeler finished the play with an easy layup on the other end of the floor for a 20-9 lead.

Lundy scored Penn State’s next six points, finishing with eight for the half, and the Nittany Lions went up 26-14 with 7:13 before the break. Harrar and Sessoms combined for the last eight points for a 34-24 cushion at halftime.

Penn State had the advantage on the boards 40-27, had 10 steals and had 14 of its 15 made free throws in the second half.

The Nittany Lions play host to Northwestern at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, Jan. 23 at the Bryce Jordan Center, for their fourth game in seven days.

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