|1st half||2nd half||final|
For the first time in the Pat Chambers era, Penn State basketball had a home court advantage. The Bryce Jordan Center crowd brought the juice and the Nittany Lions were able to ride that energy from start to finish, blowing out No. 8 Ohio State by a final score of 79-56 and completing the season sweep over the likely co-Big Ten champions. Tony Carr was dazzling against the Buckeyes once again, somehow topping his performance in Columbus with 30 points on 15 shots. Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State's Big Ten player of the year candidate, was held to just 10 points.
Mike Watkins got the Nittany Lions out of the gate quick, catching a beautiful alley-oop lob to send the eager crowd into a frenzy. Lamar Stevens added to their quick scoring with a turnaround jumper and drew a foul, causing Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann to lose his mind and get called for the technical foul. From that moment it seemed the Buckeyes did not know how to handle the Nittany Lions on either end.
The first half was the finest 20 minutes of basketball a Pat Chambers Penn State team has ever played. Not only did they limit the Buckeyes to just 21 points, they held them to 30% from the field and 11% from beyond the arc for the half. The Nittany Lions would end up holding Ohio State to just 39% from the floor for the game. Watkins did a great job protecting the rim, Shep Garner hopped in his fair share of lanes, and even backup big man Julian Moore recorded three blocks in 13 minutes in his penultimate home game.
"Shep and Julian are playing the best defense of their careers," Chambers said after the game.
Josh Reaves was absolutely everywhere tonight. That’s something that can be said for every time he steps onto the court, but tonight he played like the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year against Bates-Diop. Reaves also recorded his standard three steals, increasing his conference-leading steals per game average.
The Nittany Lions ended the first half with a play out of Ricky Rahne's playbook - Reaves added his name to the quarterback controversy with a full-court heave that Carr hauled in, took up for a layup and got the bucket with the foul. It was the perfect end to a perfect half.
Penn State slowed down a bit in the second half, but Shep Garner kept the engine running. With his famous cousin in the crowd, Garner seemingly could not miss from beyond the arc in the second period. He finished 4-7 from deep for the game, with two triples coming in crucial moments as
The Buckeyes went on a small run midway through the second period, bringing the score within 15 after a pair of back-to-back and ones, but Carr took control and put the Buckeyes away.
If the college basketball world didn't know about Carr before, they do now. Penn State hasn't had a 40% three-point shooter since Jeff Brooks in 2011; Carr is well on pace to match that and then some. He dropped another four triples tonight on eight attempts. His buckets down the stretch ensured the Nittany Lions would not let their big lead slip when doubt started creeping in. Not surprising, considering Carr has never shied away from the moment.
"Life is about memories and moments like that. I just wanted to cherish it," Carr said.
The Nittany Lions are 28th in KenPom after Thursday's win and climbing. It's easy to see that this is not the same team that limped through a tough loss to Wisconsin, or lost to Rider at the buzzer, or fell to a shorthanded Minnesota in overtime. Chambers knows that this team is on the rise.
"We're not 100% just yet, but man, are we closing in."
They'll have a great chance to show how far they've come with a road date against the Boilermakers on the horizon. If the Nittany Lions (19-9, 9-6) can bring the same type of energy to West Lafayette, there's a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and a potential NCAA Tournament berth on the horizon.