Now, how’s that for a home away from home? Philly Strong indeed, as Nittany Nation had the hallowed grounds of the famed Palestra rocking from tip-off until the final buzzer! In the process, Penn State basketball gutted out a hard-fought win and proved that they belong. The March to madness is alive and well thank you, as the roaring twenties got off to an epic start for Pat Chambers and his Nittany Lions. In his own words after the weekend’s conference nail biter, “Penn State may be known as a football school, but this shows we like basketball too,” and the head coach is right as the climb he’s been preaching has finally caught our attention!
In front of a packed house and a sea of white, the No. 21 ranked Nittany Lions went blow for blow with Iowa before coming out on top 89-86. It was a Big Ten battle reminiscent of any that’s taken place on the gridiron over the past few years. Both squads took turns trading leads throughout the game but it was Penn State’s superior depth, one Mike Watkins monster jam (on only his second basket of the game), and a flurry of Miles Dread free throws that finally nailed down the victory over the No. 23 ranked Hawkeyes. There were 24 lead changes, 10 ties, and neither team could stretch their lead beyond eight throughout the game.
On a day where Philly natives Lamar Stevens struggled with foul trouble and Watkins just plain struggled until the end, a pair of transfers stepped up and kept the Nittany Lions within striking distance. Izaiah Brockington scored a career-high 23 and Curtis Jones poured in 16, a few of which were long-range three-pointers. Despite playing only 24 minutes, Stevens still managed to score 16 of his own and commanded respect in front of his hometown down the stretch. Dread went 2-6 from behind the arc but was a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line over the final minute to finish with 14. Seth Lundy, another in the Philly pipeline who found his way to Happy Valley, added seven points to combine with Brockington and Jones as Penn State outscored their opponents 46-8 off the bench, which clearly made the difference.
Penn State now sits at 12-2 overall, 2-1 in the rough and tumble Big Ten and climbed a little higher in the polls after earning a second win over a ranked opponent this season. In years prior, games like this just wouldn’t have gone our way but the 2019/2020 Nittany Lions have the experience in their starting five and a deep enough bench to make a run like we haven’t seen in a long, long time. There’s little time to celebrate as a trip to Rutgers beckons on Tuesday night in as hostile an environment for us as the Palestra was for Iowa. We then come home to the BJC for a clash with Wisconsin on Saturday. From Philly Strong to a sea of red, something tells me this squad is up for the challenge!