Though Groundhog Day is a few weeks away, it felt like the story we saw unfold in the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday night felt awfully familiar. Penn State held a 10-point lead in the second half and stretched it to 18 with just over ten minutes left, but the Scarlet Knights fought back to come within four points with under two minutes remaining. Unlike past meetings between these two, however, the Lions held on for a hard-fought 75-67 win this time, getting their elusive first conference win of the season.
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The Lions were led by Izaiah Brockington and Myreon Jones who scored 17 apiece, with Seth Lundy chipping in 16 of his own. With his 10 rebounds, Lundy posted his first career double-double. John Harrar led the team on the glass with 11 rebounds and fell just short of a double-double of his own (8 points). Most notably for Harrar, though, was his mere one foul on the night. Jamari Wheeler added 6 assists.
Both teams entered the game in desperate need of a win, as both came in on losing streaks (four straight for Rutgers and five for Penn State). The Lions badly needed to get their first conference win, while the Scarlet Knights needed to stabilize things and get back to where they were when they were ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll. On this night, however, Jim Ferry's squad won out.
As per usual, the Nittany Lions entered the game with the size disadvantage but didn't let that stop them from controlling the outcome of the game on the glass. Penn State outrebounded the Knights, 40 to 27, including 12 offensive boards which proved to be key.
Penn State went ahead by 18 with 10:28 remaining in the game, but as the Nittany Lions faithful have come to expect, it got too close for comfort. The Nittany Lions lost their rhythm on offense and Rutgers clawed its way back after a 28-14 run. Led by Ron Harper Jr. (18 points) who took advantage of a mismatch on defense, the Scarlet Knights pulled within four with 1:58 left to play. That was as close as they would get, though, as Penn State pulled away with some late-game free throws to put the finishing touches on the win.
This is a massive win for Penn State, regardless of the losing streak its opponent is currently on. Rutgers is a quality basketball team and grabbing a win here is impressive enough, but even more impressive was how the Nittany Lions did it. One of the team's biggest issues this season has been the amount of foul trouble it has dealt with, but they flipped the script all the way around on that story on Thursday. As a team, the Lions committed just 11 fouls, which is more than 10 fouls fewer than their per game average.
If Harrar (1 foul) and his oft-fouling teammates can stay away from whistles as they did on Thursday, this team could just turn things around over the rest of the season.
Next up, Penn State will host Northwestern on Saturday night (Jan. 23) as they look to build off a long awaited winning effort. Make sure to stick with Roar Lions Roar for our preview for the upcoming game.