Don’t look now, but Pat Chambers and his Penn State b-ball squad are still climbing. All the way into the madness we’ve been craving for far too long. There’s nothing set in stone just yet, but on a night when neither team could hit the broadside of a barn, a smothering defense became the equalizer. The week off between the road win in Ann Arbor and Wednesday night’s tussle with Indiana may have been enough to take the wind out of our shot, but a second-half defensive gem proved more than enough to secure the 64-49 victory over the road-weary Hoosiers.
Penn State returned to action inside the Bryce Jordan Center for the first time since taking down the Buckeyes back on January 18th but forgot to bring their shooting touch along with them, as the Nittany Lions could only connect on 38% of their shots from the floor and were a dismal 48% from the free-throw line. Lamar Stevens provided the offensive spark as he finished with a workmanlike 17 points but even he watched in despair as a free throw caught nothing but air late in the contest. In the process though, the senior from Philly leapfrogged Jon Crispin to overtake third place on Penn State’s all-time scoring list with 1,996 and his nine rebounds gave him a robust total of 800 over his storied career. Curtis Jones, aka CUJO, was able to pick up where he left off in the second-half against Michigan as he came off the bench to score 12 and Myles Dread hit two three-pointers to help get him out of a horrible slump he has been suffering through since the start of the new year.
Aside from those few bright spots, along with a couple of huge muscle dunks from both Mike Watkins and John Harrar down low, points were at a premium all night for both squads. In a battle that was all knotted up at 26 apiece heading into halftime, the Nittany Lion defense turned up the heat like a furnace and slowly pulled away as their lead reached 20 before settling in for the double-digit win. An Indiana team that came in with a reputation for turning the ball over, left Happy Valley with 18 all told, 15 of which were steals by a Penn State D that leads the league in both steals and blocked shots.
The Nittany Lions, who jumped back into the Top 25 earlier this week with a No. 24 ranking, now stand tall at 15-5 overall and are above .500 in conference play at 5-4. Up next is a road swing that could make or break the momentum that’s been built back up over the last three games. First on the docket is a trip to Lincoln and a matchup with conference bottom-feeder Nebraska on Saturday afternoon; a game that’s as much a must-win as any if they want to keep pace in the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Then on Wednesday night, all bets are off as Penn State travels to East Lansing to take on the top-ranked Spartans of Michigan State in what could be billed as the game of the year if the Nittany Lions can handle business over the Cornhuskers first. Stay tuned folks, as we barrel headfirst into the month of February our quest for madness is alive and well!