Well folks, we had them on the ropes! Penn State basketball walked into one of college basketball’s most intimidating atmospheres at mighty Michigan State and gave the Spartans all they could handle before the shots went cold and foul trouble plagued the Lion’s effort. Up by as many as twelve at one point in the first half, it just wasn’t enough as Sparty flexed its muscles and pulled away down the stretch. Whether we’re at a stage where moral victories matter or not is still to be determined but a six-point loss to a top-5 squad and perennial national contender left a good taste with winnable games on the horizon.
In the follow-up on Saturday, Penn State threw down a barrage of thunder dunks and a suffocating defense in route to one of its most complete and dominating Big Ten games in years. The 82-58 smackdown of Iowa at the BJC left little doubt that there has been progress as Coach Pat Chambers continues to ask us to climb with him. Big man Mike Watkins collected his 19th career double-double and added his 500th career rebound; second only to legendary Jesse Arnelle at this point in his career. Tony Carr poured in 16 points and 3 assists, and Lamar Stevens had 17 points and wowed the crowd on Alumni Day with a rare 360° slam. Josh Reaves added the punctuation mark with a monster jam and stare down of a helpless Hawkeye that made all the highlight reels later that night. It was truly a glimpse of just how good this team can be when all cylinders are firing.
The Nittany Lions now sit at 16-9 on the year and 6-6 in conference, with a two-game home slate on tap this week. A mediocre Maryland squad comes into the BJC on Wednesday night and then on Saturday is the much-anticipated prime-time rematch with the Evil Empire, Ohio State. They will look to even the score from our last-second victory in Columbus a couple weeks ago. Penn State is 3-1 since that demoralizing loss to Northwestern back on January 20th and hell-bent on making some pre-season noise to end the year. With two huge games on deck and a crowd that has surpassed 10k in back-to-back home outings, a squad that’s lived most of the winter ‘on the bubble’ finally has a solid chance to see those postseason dreams come true.