The winning ways continued in dominating fashion for Penn State as they defeated Maryland 78-61 in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. The Nittany Lions had complete control of the game from start to finish, never giving the BJC crowd a real reason to get nervous. The home team pulled off their second-straight home win against a ranked opponent and their third win in as many games as this suddenly inspired ball club continues to stack impressive performances after an 0-10 conference start.
Penn State came into the game picking off right where they left off against Illinois in Champaign. The stingy Nittany Lion defense was excellent early and often. The Terrapins started off the game shooting just 1 of 9 from the field, with only three points in the game's first five minutes and change. This was not the case for the home team, who came out firing led by freshman Myles Dread. Dread nailed his first two three-point shots, while also getting fouled on a long ball giving him 8 early points. This accumulated to 14-3 Penn State lead, and Nittany Lions kept their foot on the gas.
After a couple of Maryland shots fell and the visitors cut their deficit to 7, The Nittany Lions went on another run led by Dread once again. The freshman shooting guard looked like Klay Thompson out on the BJC court, shooting the ball whenever he could, especially on the catch and shoot. The results were similar to Klay as well, and Dread had his most points in any half this season with 15.
A 13-3 run for Pat Chambers’ crew gave them a 27-11 lead over the No. 17 ranked Terrapins, and the flood gates were wide open in Happy Valley. Lamar Stevens added eight by the break and the supporting cast was excellent, shooting 51.6% from the floor and turning the ball over just three times. With 25 seconds left in the first, John Harrar finished his layup with contact, and his and-one grew Penn State’s lead to 42-20 at the half.
The first half brought back memories of PSU's domination of Ohio State at the BJC last February - this didn't quite have the atmosphere or the stakes, but it was every bit the same defensive effort that produced a favorable score at the break. Maryland scored just .667 points per possession in that first half, shooting 31% from the floor and turning the ball over eight times, which directly led to 12 PSU points.
The dominance continued in the second half. Searching for points on a fast break, Maryland's Anthony Cowan went up for a layup but Jamari Wheeler snatched the ball right out of his hands. This started a fast break for the Nittany Lions, and Wheeler found Stevens in the corner for a wide-open three. This was the start of a 9-0 run, and Penn State saw their lead balloon to 29, their largest on the night with 14:46 remaining.
Stevens was fantastic again as he put up 24 points on 9-17 from the field. He hit multiple tough shots against Maryland's formidable front line and was the leading scorer in the game. Mark Turgeon had nothing but positive things to say about Penn State's star, alluding at the junior's incredible ability to score.
"He's just really good. I can't explain it, how he gets his shot off and makes tough shots," Turgeon said. "He made a lot of tough shots with the shot clock going down and he made a three tonight which he doesn't make a lot of those. But we just weren't aggressive defensively early and we let our offense affect our defense. Lamar's good, he's really good in this building."
Turgeon was visually frustrated with his team throughout the game and got so fed up that he substituted his entire starting five out at the 15:31 mark of the second half. His team finally made a run with just over eight minutes left, going on a 13-2 run to cut Penn State's lead to 16. But Dread drew a charge and John Harrar tipped in a look on the ensuing possession, and that ended any hopes Maryland had as the lead was restored to 20 for the home team. With 7 seconds left, Trent Buttrick collected a rebound off a missed three by Eric Ayala, and the Nittany Lions dribbled out the clock to a decisive 78-61 win.
This marks three straight games that Penn State has essentially led wire-to-wire, and Chambers and co. are undoubtedly showcasing their potential after winning five of their last seven. Maryland's 17 turnovers tonight were costly, allowing Penn State to get out and running leading to some easy baskets. The Nittany Lions ended with 13 steals and 26 points off of turnovers. No surprise considering they play their best basketball when they wreak havoc on opposing backcourts. Josh Reaves naturally led the team with four steals, and even Harrar chipped in with three thefts in addition to a career-high nine points.
Despite only scoring a single point, Wheeler's presence was once again felt as Penn State's energizer bunny had 7 assists and 4 rebounds. Wheeler is the epitome of a team player, and Chambers described him best when he said "He doesn't need the headlines. He doesn't need 20 [points]. He just wants to win."
The Nittany Lions shot 27-59 on the night (45.8%), and their 78-point performance marks five out of six games where Penn State has scored 70 or more points. They only had two such games over 70 in their first eleven games of Big Ten play. Despite a solid offensive game, the defense and overall energy were the catalysts that lifted Penn State to this resounding victory. Harrar and Mike Watkins locked down Maryland's two future first-round picks in Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, who finished with just nine points apiece.
Chambers was thrilled with the defensive play of his big men. "I thought Mike and John played well against Illinois, and I thought they did a really good job on Fernando." He elaborated that the gameplan was to rotate between Watkins and Harrar so that a capable body was guarding Maryland star sophomore big man at all times. "We had Mike in for 3 minutes then John in for 3 minutes. The key was keeping fresh bodies on Fernando, and we did that tonight," said Chambers.
Penn State has another ranked opponent on the horizon when they travel to Madison to face the 19th-ranked Badgers. Wisconsin embarrassed the Nittany Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center in January, and even though this game is on the road, it has a different feeling to it. Greg Gard's crew just lost a double overtime game in Bloomington and Penn State looks like they can compete with anyone right now. They'll look for their fourth straight win on Saturday.