Penn State is on a roll.
The No. 22 Nittany Lions have won five straight games after a memorable 75-70 upset victory over No. 16 Michigan State in Big Ten Conference action on Tuesday. Penn State (17-5, 7-4) returns home for a Saturday afternoon showdown against Minnesota.
It will be Minnesota’s only league game on a Saturday this season.
The recent surge has renewed the Nittany Lions’ hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid and moved Penn State into fourth place in the conference.
Penn State coach Pat Chambers said his players have to build off their impressive road win in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions’ seven Big Ten conference wins in their first 11 games marks only the second time they have achieved that record since joining the league. In 1995-96, Penn State won nine of its first 11 conference games.
“Any time you come in here and play here, you’re going to learn something,” Chambers said. “You’re going to learn something about you as a coach. You’re going to learn something about your players. Coach (Tom) Izzo does such a great job in preparation to put teams on their heels.
“We are going to continue to get better. I really believe we can get a lot better and that’s scary to me. So, I’m excited to get on this plane and go home and continue to work to get this team to the best it can be by the end of the year.”
Sophomore guard Myreon Jones sparked the win, scoring 20 points and burying six 3-pointers to go with five assists. Senior forward Mike Watkins was clutch in the win, finishing with 10 points and a team-best eight rebounds.
Senior forward Lamar Stevens said the Nittany Lions can’t lose focus on their goals despite a big win over the Spartans. Stevens leads the team in scoring and is averaging 16.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He has hit 16 3-pointers so far on the season and drained four clutch free throws in the final 16 seconds to beat Michigan State.
The Nittany Lions own an 11-1 record at home this season.
“We’ve definitely come a long way in one year,” Stevens said. “It’s definitely a reason to celebrate, but the potential of this team, the sky’s the limit. So, we are definitely happy with our success that we’ve had so far, but we know we’re not done and can get so much better.”
Minnesota (12-10, 6-6) also is coming off a big victory, defeating Wisconsin 70-52 on Wednesday to end a two-game slide. Payton Willis scored a career-high 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers, and Gabe Kalscheur went 3-of-8 from deep. Daniel Oturu added 17 points and 14 rebounds to keep the Gophers’ fading NCAA Tournament chances alive.
Minnesota has hit just 28.2 percent of 3-pointers in Big Ten play, last in the conference, despite attempting the fourth-most (277). A 9-of-22 showing vs. the Badgers was a welcome result after the Gophers went a combined 8 of 47 in their previous two games.
“We’re a much better shooting team than we’ve shown,” head coach Richard Pitino told reporters. “Obviously the season’s kind of coming close to an end, but hopefully those numbers will level out a little bit, because Gabe and Payton especially, those guys are terrific 3-point shooters.”
The Gophers defeated Wisconsin at home for the first time in six years and have history on their side on Saturday. Minnesota defeated Penn State 75-69 on Jan. 15 behind a 27-point effort from Marcus Carr and 26 points and 14 rebounds from Oturu.
On Friday, Oturu was named one of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given annually to the nation’s top center. The sophomore is averaging 19.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season.
–Field Level Media