The #16 ranked Nittany Lions (21-7) survived a massive scare Wednesday night in a one-point victory at home against Rutgers. Had Penn State blown it, it would’ve certainly knocked Penn State out of the conference title conversation and possibly put them on the fringe of the Top 25 rankings. Instead, the Nittany Lions were able to regain the lead with 28 seconds to go and managed to hold on for the win. The week was up and down as the Nittany Lions lost at Indiana earlier in the week before pulling out the critical home win Wednesday.
A recap of last week
Last Sunday was a big game for Penn State. They needed a win to stay within a game of Maryland for the top spot in the Big 10. Indiana was on the fringe of the tournament field prior to the tip, needing a big win to add to their resume for their tournament hopes to stay afloat, while Penn State was looking to sweep the season series and head back home for a Wednesday meeting with Rutgers.
In their first meeting at Penn State, Indiana struggled mightily, going just 33% from the field and losing by 15. On Sunday, Indiana played substantially better basketball, extending their lead to as much as 19 in the first half. Penn State closed the gap quickly and led by as much as six at the 12-minute mark in the second half. Jerome Hunter’s three sparked a 13-0 run for the Hoosiers and put the game just out of reach of Penn State, who couldn’t find any sort of rhythm from deep. Penn State went just 2-14 from three and shot just 41% from the field.
Despite the +2 rebounding advantage, Penn State couldn’t stay out of foul trouble (24 fouls) and couldn’t stop committing turnovers (15 in the game). Lamar Stevens attempted 27 shots in the game, which was over half the amount the Nittany Lions attempted as a team. Stevens’ 29 points wasn’t efficient (11-27), but no one else appeared to want to step-up. Myles Dread was the only other player with double-digit points (10) and Dread actually fouled out late in the game. We know Penn State was playing shorthanded, but the Nittany Lions are going to have to start getting more contributions from guys not named “Myles Dread” and “Lamar Stevens.” The team has been without Myreon Jones (illness) for five games now, so the Nittany Lions desperately need him to return to action soon. This current “Lean on Stevens” style of play is not going to get wins in a conference like the Big 10.
Sunday was a critical game for Penn State. Following back-to-back losses against Illinois and Indiana, Penn State really needed to get a win at home against a struggling Rutgers squad (losers of three of their last four). Penn State got off to a hot start Wednesday, leading by as many as 21 before the half. We talked about how a lack of offensive diversity was their undoing against Indiana and Penn State responded in a big way to start the game.
Everything was going great as Penn State led by 18 at the half. With just ten minutes to go in the game, Rutgers had cut the lead down to just one. Penn State finally responded by going on a 9-0 run, extending the lead to ten with just under six minutes left. Geo Baker made a pair of late layups to give Rutgers a two-point lead with under a minute to go, but Myles Dread came up huge when the Nittany Lions needed him most, draining a long three with 28 seconds to go. Penn State was able to play solid defense on the final possession and thwart a late three-point attempt to secure the win.
It was unnecessarily dramatic for Penn State to let Rutgers climb back into the game and rip the victory away from Rutgers on the final possession, but from a development perspective, it was a crucial close game test that Penn State passed with flying colors. Unlike the previous game at Indiana, Penn State got some very nice support from the bench (27 combined points). Isaiah Brockington came up big with a team-high 16 in 26 minutes of action. Five different Nittany Lions had at least five rebounds in the team’s 40 rebound effort (+1). Penn State struggled through a few stretches of this game as they went just 39% from the field and 32% from three.
Regardless, it was a great finish and the kind of clutch win that should cleanse the two-game losing streak taste out of their mouths.
The Penn State basketball schedule so far
NOV 5 (W) – MD Eastern 84-46
NOV 9 (W) – Wagner 91-64
NOV 14 (W) – Georgetown 81-66
NOV 19 (W) – Bucknell 98-70
NOV 23 (W) – Yale 58-56
NOV 27 (L) – Ole Miss 74-72
NOV 29 (W) – Syracuse 85-64
DEC 4 (W) – Wake Forest 76-54
DEC 7 (L) – Ohio State 106-74
DEC 10 (W) – Maryland 76-69
DEC 14 (W) – Alabama 73-71
DEC 20 (W) – Central Connecticut St 87-58
DEC 29 (W) – Cornell 90-59
JAN 4 (W) – Iowa 89-86
JAN 7 (L) – Rutgers 72-61
JAN 11 (L) – Wisconsin 58-49
JAN 15 (L) – Minnesota 75-69
JAN 18 (W) – Ohio State 90-76
JAN 22 (W) – Michigan 72-63
JAN 29 (W) – Indiana 64-49
FEB 1 (W) – Nebraska 76-64
FEB 4 (W) – Michigan State 75-70
FEB 8 (W) – Minnesota 83-77
FEB 11 (W) – Purdue 88-76
FEB 15 (W) – Northwestern 77-61
FEB 18 (L) – Illinois 62-56
FEB 23 (L) – Indiana 68-60
FEB 26 (W) – Rutgers 65-64
Preview for next week
Saturday’s game at Iowa will be a true battle. It’s Lamar Stevens against Luka Garza down low. The Hawkeyes also have one of the 15 most accurate three-point shooters in the country with CJ Fredrick. Though Fredrick is dealing with an ankle injury, his status is still uncertain for Saturday. The Hawkeyes will pose a difficult matchup for the Nittany Lions. Their first game, a shootout, resulted in Luka Garza scoring 34 points. In that game, Stevens tallied 23 points, but the Hawkeyes ruled the boards (+4). It was turnovers in their first game (Iowa had 15 and Penn State had 8) that was the difference. This time around, Penn State is going to need to protect the ball much better than they have lately and they absolutely need to find a way to slow down Luka Garza.
This coming Tuesday, Penn State will have an opportunity to sweep the season series against the Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State has been playing much better of late, winning three of their last four and their only loss being against Maryland in a dogfight. The Xavier Tillman versus Lamar Stevens matchup should again be very entertaining.
The last time these two teams played, Tillman was a beast on the boards (11 rebounds) but didn’t factor much offensively (9 points). It was the Cassius Winston show for Michigan State as Winston scored 25 and nearly managed to rally the Spartans in the second half. Lamar Stevens netted 24 and Myreon Jones shot an incredible 6-8 from deep. With Jones slated to return from the illness that’s kept him out for five games, Penn State will need Jones to help provide more offense.
Penn State’s odds to win the title are +3000
As of today, Penn State’s Final Four odds are still +650 via PlaySugarHouse PA sportsbook, but their odds for winning the title have jumped back up to +3000. Let’s go through the rundown on their odds, game to game, to see whether or not they’re a good bet from the #5 seed position:
Final Four: +220
According to the math, there’s a 50% chance (roughly) the actual odds will go somewhere between +3000 and +4000. There’s about a 38% chance the odds will be somewhere between +2250 and +3000. The remaining 12% is outside both brackets of odds. With the field being widely considered to be unpredictable this year, a +3000 isn’t bad for Penn State.