|1st half||2nd half||FinAl|
In a game they needed to win, Penn State got big performances from its important players. Lamar Stevens scored a career-high 30 points on 19 shots and Mike Watkins put up his second-consecutive monster double-double (18 points and 17 rebounds) as the Nittany Lions defeated Northwestern 78-63 at the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday night.
The Wildcats looked second-best all night, but nearly made a game of it thanks to Bryant McIntosh. The senior suited up as a game-time decision and scored 18 points in defeat, including a banked 28-footer to close the half that had Nittany Lions fans biting their nails despite a seven-point halftime advantage. Penn State played with the energy that was lacking in the second half against Maryland in Tuesday night's loss, especially in their half-court offense. Jamari Wheeler provided a spark from the bench with five first-half assists. Passing was contagious in that first half, with the Lions assisting on 11 of their 17 field goals. Stevens was often the recipient of great passes, and he delivered by connecting on his first seven attempts from the field.
Stevens didn't slow down after the break - it helped that nobody on Northwestern could stay in front of the powerful sophomore. Wildcats head coach Chris Collins was shown in the huddle during the broadcast scolding his team's effort against Stevens. When it wasn't Stevens carrying the load, Watkins was making his presence felt on both ends. The big man will surely be in consideration for Big Ten Player of the Week honors with another 17+ point and rebound effort, not to mention four blocked shots and an efficient 8-11 showing at the free throw line. His counterpart, Dererk Pardon, fouled out in 32 minutes with 6 points and 4 boards. Not a bad night at the office.
Tony Carr is still in the doldrums offensively, though a "bad" night for him still resulted in 12 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. The two-point struggles are still evident (2-9), but his shot selection was improved from the languid late attempts he produced in College Park. His only three-pointer of the game with 4:39 left to put PSU up 14 served as the dagger in Northwestern's late comeback hopes. Josh Reaves' Josh Reaves plays also helped seal up the win, despite him rolling his ankle midway through the second half. He did return though, so there should be no fears of him missing Tuesday's game at Indiana.
Chambers praised his team's aggressiveness in getting to the rim in the FS1 postgame interview, and the numbers back that up: Penn State was credited with eight dunks for the game, shot 12-14 on layups, and scored 48 points in the paint. That's a huge improvement from recent offensive performances. Stevens and Wheeler were in the lane all evening. The former found his own shot and the latter was setting up others; that Penn State only scored 1.12 points per possession is a disappointment. Perhaps more important are Northwestern's offensive numbers; the Wildcats shot 37% from the field and scored a measly 0.90 points per trip.
Penn State's at-large bid hopes are largely dead, but any chance they had rested on emerging victorious tonight. Mission accomplished. Next up is a trip to Bloomington to begin a stretch of three games most would consider "winnable" - at Indiana, vs. Nebraska and vs. a turmoil-ridden Minnesota. None of these will be big-time résumé boosters, but the opportunity to build momentum is there. More on the Hoosiers next week.