Lamar Stevens (above) led the way with 18 points as Penn State improved to 2-2 in Big Ten play for the first time under Pat Chambers. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
In the first-ever Big Ten Conference regular-season game played at the historic Palestra, Penn State rode a strong “home”-crowd advantage to a 72-63 win over Michigan State.
With the Cathedral of College Basketball packed to its gills and the loudest its been all season, Penn State used that energy to its advantage. An 8-0 spurt after two MSU foul shots opened the game gave the Nittany Lions a lead they held the rest of the way. Junior wing Payton Banks poured in 10 first-half points, including a pair of 3s to help Penn State lead by as many as 12 in the opening 20 minutes; the score was 44-32 at halftime, matching that advantage.
After Michigan State had chipped the Penn State lead all the way down to five inside the final nine minutes, a pair of Josh Reaves buckets helped settle the Nittany Lions down. The first came after a terrific offensive rebound by Mike Watkins, who found Reaves cutting to the hoop for an easy layup; the next time down the court, a nifty feed from Shep Garner on a backdoor cut resulted in a Reaves dunk, and the lead was back up to eight.
Michigan State couldn't mount much of a run down the stretch, getting within six at one brief point, but the Spartans couldn't hit the shots they needed to get things down to one possession.
Penn State freshman Lamar Stevens, one of four Roman Catholic products on the Penn State roster -- including three true freshmen -- led the way for the Nittany Lions with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, adding six rebounds. His high school and college teammate, Tony Carr, had 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, while a third Philadelphia native, Mike Watkins (Phelps School/Math, Civics & Sciences) had 11 points and nine rebounds, including several crucial ones down the stretch.
Michigan State was led by one of four freshman who start, 6-9 forward Nick Ward, who had 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Junior guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn, Jr. added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
32: Penn State junior guard Shep Garner scored the 1,000th point of his college career on Saturday with a first-half 3-pointer, becoming the 32nd player in Nittany Lions history to get to the four-digit mark. Garner finished his career at Roman Catholic with 1,437 points, but should have no problem surpassing that output by the time he’s done college.
.500: In Pat Chambers’ six years at Penn State, he’d never won two of his first four conference games; the fewest its taken him was six conference games to get two wins, which happened last year. Last year was also the team’s most conference wins under Chambers, as the Nittany Lions went 7-11 in Big Ten play.
18: Penn State dished out 18 assists on 26 buckets, assisting on nearly 70 percent of its scores; for the season, the Nittany Lions have assists on just over 57 percent of their buckets, which is in the top 100 in the country according to KenPom.
Penn State (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten) vs. Minnesota (14-2, 2-1 Big Ten) -- Sat., Jan. 14, Noon