Penn State will be searching for its 14th consecutive home victory dating to last season when it hosts Wisconsin on Saturday in State College, Pa.
The 20th-ranked Nittany Lions took their first loss as a ranked team this season in a 72-61 defeat to Rutgers on Tuesday night.
Myreon Jones scored 21 points, Mike Watkins added 17 and Lamar Stevens had 12 for the Nittany Lions (12-3, 2-2 Big Ten), who will be looking to move back above .500 in conference play.
Despite the loss to the Scarlet Knights, Penn State is competing as a ranked team for the first time since 1996. Five different players have stepped up to lead the team in scoring in games this season.
“They are on a mission,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “They want to win, and put the statistics aside, we talked about it, it is not about stats. The only stat right now that we care about is winning. If you have that mindset and that hunger, you are going to find success.”
Watkins made his first seven shots against Rutgers and continued his stellar defensive play. The fifth-year senior eclipsed 1,000 career points earlier this season against Central Connecticut State.
“He’s such a great shot blocker. His timing’s amazing,” Chambers said of Watkins. “I thought last year because of the injury, he didn’t have that second jump with that anticipation. I think he has all of that back, and then offensively (he is) starting to develop.
“He’s getting a little bit better with (his) back to the basket, and he’s working on a streak. I know he’ll shoot the occasional 3, he’s working on it. But defensively, he’s such a force.”
Wisconsin (9-6, 2-2), meanwhile, will be attempting to rebound after a 71-70 loss at home to Illinois on Wednesday. The defeat snapped a four-game winning streak.
Kobe King paced Wisconsin with 21 points while Micah Potter added 13 points and nine rebounds. Potter became eligible in December after sitting out since transferring from Ohio State.
The Big 10 is balanced from top to bottom, and that point was proven with Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State last week.
“It’s life in this league,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said after the loss to Illinois. “What happened in the past doesn’t matter, so you turn the page on Ohio State. We knew exactly what was coming in tonight. I knew they had the ability to shoot the 3 better than what they had shot it … and they hit timely ones tonight.”
Potter’s presence was evident from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Still, for the Badgers to come up with a tough road win against the Nittany Lions, defense must be a priority. Wisconsin’s defense was sketchy at times against the Illini.
Illinois shot 49.1 percent from the field and made 7 of 16 3-point attempts.
“It really stings, especially a game like that where it’s so close, a one-point game,” Potter said. “We’ve got to give them credit. They hit big shots. We didn’t hit them. But we’ve got to do a better job defensively.
“We gave up 43 points in that half. It’s probably one of the worst we had all year.”
–Field Level Media