It was the tale of two halves on Wednesday night inside the BJC. Penn State came out on fire versus Rutgers, hell-bent on ending a two-game losing streak and exacting revenge on a Scarlett Knights squad that handed the Nittany Lions one on the chin in mid-January. The lead swelled to as many as 24 points in the first half and a team that peaked at No. 9 in the country was well on its way to a conference victory.
The problem is, with March just around the corner, teams are battling for the right to move on in post-season play and Rutgers (who came in as a team on the bubble with an 18-10 record) wasn’t going down without a fight. Credit the visitors from New Jersey for their tenacity as they methodically chipped away at the deficit to eventually tie it all up and then take their first lead of the night, 64-62, on a wing and a prayer shot that banked in with under 45 seconds to go. It left us with our jaws dropped and confidence at a low. Shots that had fallen with ease over the first 20 minutes of the game were clanging off the rim non-stop in the second and Penn State’s superstar, Lamar Stevens, was embroiled in one of his worst games offensively of his senior campaign.
Things looked bleak, to say the least as the Nittany Lions inbounded the ball and drove upcourt trying to salvage their grip on the top half of the conference standings. That’s when sophomore guard Myles Dread reared back at the top of the arc, with hands in his face and drove a dagger into the heart of Rutgers fans with 24 seconds to go and both teams out of timeouts. Nothing but net as the ball swished through the hoop and kept Penn State’s bid to earn a two-day bye in the Big Ten Tournament alive and well.
Sounds a bit over-dramatic, doesn’t it? We are talking about Rutgers, after all. Well, it’s not. With a rematch at Iowa coming up on Saturday at noon and another with Michigan State in our final home game next Tuesday night, we need every win we can notch on our belts. There’s a log-jam at the top of the conference standings and everyone is looking up at Maryland, including us. As brutal as conference play has been this season, two days off while everyone else dukes it out is crucial at this point. On Wednesday night, it was Dread’s dagger that kept us climbing as we now head into a hawk’s nest in Iowa City. Tip-off is at high noon and you can expect the Hawkeyes to throw everything they have at us as they look to revenge a January loss in the Palestra.