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Despite their earned reputation as a superb defensive team, Penn State was no match for NC State's high octane offense on Saturday afternoon in Atlantic City. Five Wolfpack players scored in double figures as a second half run pushed Kevin Keatts' squad over the top, giving the Nittany Lions their fifth loss of the season. Some controversial first half whistles marred affairs somewhat, putting Lamar Stevens in unearned foul trouble throughout the game. Still, a disappointing defensive effort will leave Penn State feeling that they could have done more to stop their opponents.
Pat Chambers was in a gambling mood in Atlantic City, re-inserting Stevens with two fouls with just over four minutes left in the first half. The star junior picked up his third foul almost immediately on a cheap offensive foul, sending Chambers into a fit of rage for which he was not T'd up.
Penn State played well enough to get to the locker room down three without their leader. Josh Reaves in particular had an outstanding half with 12 points, three assists and only one turnover, a big improvement on a poor ballhandling start to the season for the senior. His alley-oop finish from a Jamari Wheeler lob energized a Penn State-heavy crowd at Boardwalk Hall. NC State's high-tempo offense, however, manufactured enough to keep the Nittany Lions at bay.
Stevens returned strong in the second half, scoring six points in five minutes before picking up his fourth foul, this one more earned than the third. Again, Penn State's supporting cast responded. Rasir Bolton took over the scoring load beyond the arc and at the line with the Lions in the bonus early in the half, and Wheeler contributed more than his fair share of points with a pair of and-ones. The Nittany Lions even took the lead at 56-55 with 12:53 left in the game.
But on the next possession, Markell Johnson drilled a three square in Reaves' eye, foreshadowing the onslaught that was about to come. NC State thrived among the chaos it created, pulling away with five minutes to spare behind Johnson and star senior Torin Dorn. A 19-6 run blew the game wide open as Penn State went ice cold down the stretch, which they've tended to do at crucial junctures in this young season.
Braxton Beverly drove past Wheeler twice with the game still in the balance, signifying just how easy it was for the Wolfpack in the second half — the victors shot 71 percent in the final 20 minutes, making Penn State's previously vaunted defense look gassed and unable to stop anybody. Bolton finished with a game-high 25, though eight came in garbage time with the game decided.
The Nittany Lions will travel to Pittsburgh for a game at Duquesne on Wednesday night. More on Keith Dambrot's Dukes next week.