Don’t look now but Nittany Lion basketball is on fire heading into the home stretch with a four-game gauntlet as hard as you can find in the rugged world of Big Ten basketball. Last week Penn State went two-for-two with a win at home over Maryland and one on the road at Illinois, improving their overall record to 18-9 and 8-6 in the conference. It ties the most wins in a season during the Pat Chambers era and signifies a coming of age for the heralded recruits he brought in. This team, comprised of mostly sophomores, with the exception lone senior Shep Garner, has finally started to realize their potential with post-season aspirations very much still on the table.
This past Tuesday, the Nittany Lions served payback to a Terrapin squad that stole one away in early January; a common theme it seemed way back then. The 74-70 victory was a game that saw multiple lead changes throughout the first half but one that never saw Penn State relinquish their lead in the second. Finishing games and second-half lulls have haunted them all season but not this time around as Penn State held on for the win. Lamar Stevens led the way with 25 and when the super sophomore scores 25 or more, the Nittany Lions are 7-0 on the season.
Speaking of Shep Garner, the lone senior of this young bunch led the way on Sunday in Champaign with 16 as Penn State devoured the home-standing Illini 74-52. The Big Ten’s leading 3-point shooter now stands at 10 in all-time in scoring and has picked no better time to turn up the heat. Penn State led by two points at intermission in a closer-than-expected first half, but completely dominated the second with a flurry of dunks and jams that brought back visions of the old University of Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma from the early ‘80s. So much for second half lulls, whether it be Mike Watkins, Josh Reaves, or Stevens, as each dunk seems to give this squad an extra level of confidence and energy.
Up next, a blizzard in Happy Valley. On Thursday, Penn State takes on the Buckeyes in a much-anticipated rematch of last month’s buzzer-beater that proved to be the fuel for this newfound chemistry. Pat Chambers has called for a Whiteout in the BJC and it’s up to us to oblige his request. Ohio State is coming off a huge win over Purdue, sits atop the conference rankings, and hasn’t missed a beat since we broke their hearts in Columbus. They come into town with revenge on their minds. A Whiteout crowd that rivals those in Beaver Stadium will go a long way in helping our squad stay on this hot streak and inch itself just a little bit closer to popping that post-season bubble we currently reside in. Things get no easier as dates with Michigan, the Boilermakers, and Nebraska lie on the horizon. A victory over the Evil Empire will serve notice to all that Pat Chambers and Penn State have finally arrived.