Penn State is a Big Ten Title Contender

I sure didn’t think it would happen, but Penn State beat Michigan State on Tuesday night for its first win in East Lansing since 2009. The win moved the Nittany Lions within one game of the Big Ten lead, and they’ve already got a victory over first-place Maryland. I thing I did know was that for Penn State to win, it would need to play great defense and get a great performance from either Lamar Stevens or Myreon Jones.

I figured “great defense” meant containing Cassius Winston, but he went off for 25 points and nine assists, including a couple of ridiculous three-point shots down the stretch that almost sunk Penn State. However, it turned out that “great defense” meant holding every other Spartan under 10 points and forcing 15 turnovers that turned into a bunch of transition buckets.

It also didn’t hurt that BOTH Stevens and Jones stepped up big time. The former was rocking the mid-range game all night and finished with 24 points on 9-for-20 shooting. Jones pitched in with 20 points on 6-for-8 three-point shooting and five assists. That game against a Michigan State defense that has only allowed opponents to shoot 28 percent from beyond the arc this season.

Penn State controlled most of the first half and led by eight early in the second half. However, the Spartans came back to tie the score 51-51 on a Marcus Bingham Jr. layup with 14 minutes to play. Penn State then regained control on three-point shots by Myles Dread and Jones. The game came down to the wire with the Lions surviving on a Winston missed free throw after he was fouled by Curtis Jones on a made layup. Winston even got another chance to equalize in the final seconds on a three-pointer, but it fell short.

Unbelievable. Penn State is 7-4 in the Big Ten and has all the momentum in the world heading into Saturday’s rematch with Minnesota. Back on January 15 in Minneapolis, the Gophers came from behind to beat the Lions 75-69 with Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu combining for 53 points. Penn State will have to slow down one of those guys if it’s going to even the score. Hopefully that will be Oturu after he and Stevens got into a little spat during postgame handshakes.

One thing’s for sure: The Bryce Jordan Center will be rocking like it hasn’t in years. The game is sold out, and Pat Chambers’s players will be rewarded for their hard work by getting to play in front of a real college basketball crowd. Thank goodness.

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