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Penn State Digs Deep to Knock off Buckeyes

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By Jeff Rice, Special to GoPSUSports.com

NEW YORK -- One-possession games were sources of frustration for Penn State in the not-so-distant past.

They're becoming sources of triumph for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State's 69-68 win over second-seeded Ohio State before a fired-up crowd at Madison Square Garden on Friday night was its fifth victory in games decided by five or fewer points and the third win in its last four of those contests.

A season after finishing 4-8 in games decided by six or fewer points or in overtime, the Nittany Lions are learning to finish opponents off and deliver down the stretch, and they have their sophomore point guard to thank for that.

After pouring in 25 points for the second straight night, Tony Carr is now averaging 27.7 points in three games against the Buckeyes this season, and he made the play of the night, finding Josh Reaves for the decisive dunk with four seconds remaining.

"I knew he would make the right decision," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "That's why I didn't call a timeout."

It was one example of terrific execution in a tight spot, which was preceded by another at the defensive end -- senior guard Shep Garner knocking the ball away from Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop, the Big Ten Player of the Year, which set up the go-ahead basket.

The Nittany Lions are now 16-1 this season when they hold an opponent below 70 points. They jumped on the Buckeyes early, charging out to a 12-4 lead, then held off a big charge from Bates-Diop just enough to pull out their third straight win over Ohio State and their sixth win in their last nine games overall. Despite having to play more defense "below the rim," as Garner put it, without injured big man Mike Watkins, the Nittany Lions are playing as a unit on the defensive end and with unselfishness on offense.

"They understand their roles very well," Chambers said. "They're talking to each other out there. They're taking over huddles."

Carr, who buried a deep 3-pointer to beat Ohio State during the regular season, matched Bates-Diop's game-high 25 points in a matchup of the conference's two most dynamic scorers. But it was his passing after drawing a second defender that led to some of the Nittany Lions' biggest buckets, Reaves' being one and a feed that led to a dunk from Julian Moore that cut Ohio State's lead to 66-64 with two minutes remaining.

Two big free throws from Reaves got Penn State within one point, 68-67, with 47 seconds remaining, and the Nittany Lions nodded their heads with confidence during the ensuing timeout. After Garner's steal with 16 seconds left, Carr and Reaves turned that confidence into a victory-sealing play, keeping Penn State's NCAA Tournament hopes alive for at least one more day.

"I was definitely tired by the five-minute mark," said Carr, who played 36 minutes. "But we put in so much work this offseason and I wanted to win so bad, so you dig down deep."

Garner Lifts Penn State in B1G Tournament Opener

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By Jeff Rice, Special to GoPSUSports.com

NEW YORK -- With two of Penn State's all-time great sharpshooters -- Joe Crispin and Talor Battle -- watching from the Madison Square Garden stands, Shep Garner poured in four more 3-pointers on Thursday night, bringing his season total to 92, tying Battle for the fourth-most made threes in a season in team history.

But it was a key defensive play by the senior guard from Chester, Pennsylvania, that might have had even more impact in the Nittany Lions' 65-57 win over Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. 

Garner drew a charge from the Wildcats' Scottie Lindsey with 3:15 left, fouling out one of Northwestern's top offensive options and providing a big boost of momentum during what was a decisive 15-5 run for Penn State, as junior guard Josh Reaves connected on a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.

"He put his body on the line for his teammates, which is critical," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of Garner. "That's what seniors do. That's what leaders do. But that also shows you where this program is headed. We're willing to make those winning plays." 

It was one of many examples of players stepping up in ways other than the scoring column. True freshman John Harrar made his first career start in relief of an injured Mike Watkins, while senior big Julian Moore was solid off the bench, blocking three shots in 24 minutes of action.

Reaves provided his usual defensive spark, with a steal and some strong defensive on Northwestern guards Bryant McIntosh (7 points on 3-of-12 shooting) and Lindsey (12 points on 4-of-13 shooting), and freshman guard Jamari Wheeler also gave the Nittany Lions, who held Northwestern to 33 percent from the field in the second half, some defensive juice off the bench.

"We buckled down on the defensive end," said Garner. "Defending and rebounding is our staple. And that's what we did at that stretch of the game."

Sophomore guard Tony Carr was once again the offensive star for Penn State, pouring in 25 points -- just one shy of the program single-game record in the tournament -- but he got his teammates involved down the stretch and had only one turnover. The Nittany Lions had only five giveaways on the night.

"I thought we did a really nice job sharing the ball, but more importantly, we didn't turn it over," Chambers said.

For the better part of the third straight game, Penn State handled the absence of Watkins. For the final few minutes of the first half, it also had to handle the absence of starting forward Lamar Stevens, who took a Lindsey elbow to the face and had to receive medical attention for an open cut on his lip. Penn State was down 25-19 when Stevens came out but went into the halftime tied for the first time this season, at 30-30, thanks to a one-handed lay-in by Reaves in the final minute.

As they've done since Watkins went out of the game early in the first half against Michigan, the Nittany Lions used different lineup combinations and more than a little grit to keep going. They'll now look to continue their tournament run against an Ohio State team they beat twice during the regular season.

"We definitely love playing here," Carr said. "Madison Square Garden is a great gym. It's every child's dream to play here. We just want to keep it going."

Penn State Gearing up for B1G Tournament

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State fell at Nebraska in Sunday's regular season finale to finish the year 19-12 and 9-9 in Big Ten play. Penn State's 19 victories and nine Big Ten wins are the most under head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lions are hardly finished.

 

The Big Ten Tournament begins Thursday, March 1 with the No. 7 seed Nittany Lions taking on No. 10 Northwestern at 6:30 p.m. inside New York's Madison Square Garden. The matchup marks the highest Big Ten Tournament seed Penn State has earned since Chambers took the helm in 2011.

 

"I don't want [Sunday's] defeat to diminish what this group has done," Chambers said. "To win 19 games and to go 9-9 [in the Big Ten], we've accomplished a lot. We're getting there and we still have a lot to play for and we can still get a heck of a lot better."

 

Penn State certainly faced its fair share of adversity down the stretch, but the regular season is over and there are still plenty of opportunities to seize with a fresh slate in the postseason.


The Nittany Lions aren't exactly out of the NCAA Tournament discussion just yet. Of course, winning the Big Ten Tournament would ensure an automatic berth, an at-large nod isn't out of reach.

 

Just look back to the 2010-11 season. Penn State's all-time leading scorer, Talor Battle, led Penn State to a 16-13 regular season record, but the Nittany Lions rattled off three straight to reach the conference tournament championship. Although they didn't beat Ohio State in the title game, the selection committee gave Penn State an at-large bid and a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

 

With a deep run in New York, Penn State could make its way into the NCAA Tournament, even without the conference title.

 

"I'm crazy enough to think we've got an outside shot," Chambers said.


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Without looking too far ahead, Penn State will turn all its attention toward the Wildcats. Penn State split its regular season series with Northwestern, as both teams won on their home floors.

 

At 15-16 on the year and 6-12 in conference play, Northwestern lost its last six consecutive games, closing out the regular season with a 77-70 loss at Iowa.

 

For Chambers, rebounding will be a key factor in the matchup, especially if the Nittany Lions are without leading rebounder Mike Watkins. In Penn State's loss to Northwestern earlier this season, the Nittany Lions were outrebounded 32-25.

 

Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens has feasted on the Northwestern defense this year though. He shot 20-for-30 from the field and scored 43 points in the two combined games against the Wildcats. His 30-point effort in the home victory against Northwestern set a career high, marking his first career 30-point game.

 

As for Penn State's most consistent scorer, sophomore guard Tony Carr,  he didn't put up his usual scoring numbers in the regular season meetings. In two games, Carr shot a combined 7-for-23 from the field, with 12 points coming as his highest offensive point total across both outings.

 

However, Carr is coming off a strong offensive performance in which he scored 27 points at Nebraska to become the first Penn State sophomore to reach the 1,000 points career milestone.

 

That's not even factoring in the command and leadership he has on the court, something Chambers has seen grow and develop throughout the season.

 

Carr finished the year as the Big Ten's leading scorer, averaging 20.1 points per game. On Monday afternoon he earned All-Big Ten first team honors by both the league's head coaches and the media, making him the first Nittany Lion sophomore first team selection since Battle in 2008-09.

 

"I think what [Carr's] done for this team over the entire Big Ten season is pretty incredible and pretty consistent," Chambers said. "That's what you look at with your big time players, consistency, and he's done that and he's led us to victories."

 

Carr was one of four total Nittany Lions to earn All-Big Ten accolades as Stevens and Watkins picked up honorable mention selections. Josh Reaves was also tabbed to the Big Ten All-Defensive team.

 

As much as Penn State needs its best players to shine on the big stage, Chambers said the team also needs the Penn State faithful in the New York area and beyond to provide a home-court advantage at the Big Ten Tournament for the Nittany Lions.

 

"I hope all Penn Staters come out. Usually we have a good crowd when we go to [Madison Square Garden] and it's a good time too," Chambers said. "Put the kids to bed or get a babysitter, have a little dinner and a glass of wine and come right to Penn State basketball at 6:30. Sounds like a great night to me. If we could have a home-court advantage that would really help us out."

Penn State Battles in Regular Season Home Finale

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was hardly the senior night that any of the Nittany Lions would have planned. Despite a slower than anticipated start, Penn State would not go quietly in front of yet another passionate crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center Wednesday night.

"There's going to be some positives taken from this," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "We'll grow from this and we'll get better from it. That's what I told them in there."

In the first meeting between the two teams this year, there are plenty of things the Nittany Lion can be proud of. Forcing one of the nation's best turnover teams (9.24 per game) to 12 turnovers. Michigan was just 2-4 on the year when committing more turnovers than its opponent.

For Chambers though, it was Penn State's ability to respond to adversity, that had him most pleased.

"I thought our guys competed," Chambers said. "I thought they played hard. To come out and take the lead, we finished off the first half really well."

Michigan came out with an early advantage before the Nittany Lions responded to tighten the score. The once frenzied crowd quieted though as Mike Watkins hit the floor and shortly departed for the training room.

"He makes big plays for us on both ends," Chambers said. "He's a ferocious rebounder, and obviously, there's a trust level with those starting five."

Entering in place of Watkins, senior Julian Moore scored six points in a six minute stretch to bring the Nittany Lions within one, 16-15.

Michigan quickly found its stride from the 3-point line though, knocking down three triples to build the advantage as high as 13, 30-17, before a Tony Carr trey trimmed the gap to 10, 30-20.

Lamar Stevens followed with six straight for the Nittany Lions to send Penn State into the break down 34-26 at halftime.

Inside the locker room, Chambers' message was clear, better defense and more opportunities to put pressure on the paint.

"At halftime, we knew we didn't play well so we talked about our adjustments," Chambers said.

Penn State came out firing in the second half, using a timely triple from Stevens to pull Penn State within five before Carr followed with another to make it a four-point game, 38-34.

With 16:21 remaining, Penn State widened its 8-0 run after a Stevens block resulted in a Carr and-1 on the other end to give the Nittany Lions their first lead since the early in the first half.  

Penn State quickly made it a 13-2 run over a 5:05 stretch holding Michigan scoreless for 4:39 in the process, all while widening the advantage to 41-39.

As the Wolverines adjusted and the Nittany Lions started to feel the fatigue of a February schedule most recently featuring Ohio State and sixth-ranked Purdue just a few day prior, Michigan took control from the perimeter.

"Our whole thing was high hands and just don't let them shoot them," Chambers said. "Don't let them get them off, obviously they got 21 off. It's something we can work on, something to grow as we come back to practice because Nebraska takes a ton of threes too."

With senior day gone, the Nittany Lions have just one more test to end the regular season. Headed to Nebraska Sunday, there's still time to find that one percent better the Nittany Lions are working toward.

Seniors Driving Nittany Lion Culture

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's the final week of the regular season and Penn State's last home outing has arrived at a point in time where there's hardly room for error. Even with the program's best record under head coach Patrick Chambers already locked up, the Nittany Lions still have plenty on the line.

Preparations for a mid-week Big Ten matchup against Michigan (22-7, 11-5) begin Tuesday as the Nittany Lions used Monday to refocus following their first loss in four games.

Prior to Wednesday's first whistle though, Penn State will take time to pay tribute to its seniors. In a class comprised of two, it's Penn State's 2018 seniors who paved the way for what can easily be described as a tangible buzz swirling through Happy Valley at the mere mention of men's hoops.

To understand their unique impact, look no further than where it all started.

Penn State opened the 2014-15 season with a 61-48 win against Morgan State. The box score listed 7,402 as the official attendance. The loudest voice in the Bryce Jordan Center that night was not Chambers, it was Kim Garner. Seated in section 107, Garner watched her son Shep make his collegiate debut with a 14-point performance against the Bears, second only to Nittany Lion leading scorer D.J. Newbill.

Garner was the first freshman to start a season opener since Trey Lewis in 2011.

Fast forward to January 27, 2018, when Penn State topped Rutgers 60-43 in front of the largest BJC hoops crowd since 2011. The voice from section 107 was arguably still the loudest.

It's not a hostile kind of voice though, instead the exact opposite, one of encouragement and often including a confident "We Are."

"You can't replace Ms. Garner," junior Josh Reaves said. "She's a voice you're always going to hear regardless of where you are. The energy she brings from the crowd alone, it just travels. I know she's got my back, even from the crowd."

Upon asking any Nittany Lion freshman why they chose to come to Penn State, the answer is always the same. Family.

Just ask Reaves, who noted he could feel the love from the Penn State coaching staff all the way from Fairfax, Virginia during his recruitment process.

"When I was playing with Team Takeover in AAU, I always heard about Shep Garner, Shep Garner, he's committed to Penn State. He can do this, he can do that." Reaves said. "I'd never seen him, I'd never watched him play and I'd never met him, but as soon as I came here for a game I watched him play and I was like, he lived up to the hype." 

Garner finished his freshman season ranked second on the team and scoring and assists. As a sophomore, he came one triple shy of a Penn State record, shooting 8-for-12 from 3-point range with a career-high 30 points in a win against Boston College, which Chambers immediately notes as his best career outing.

By his junior year, he eclipsed 1,000-point mark in perhaps the most perfect of settings, knocking off Michigan State in front of a packed hometown crowd at the historic Palestra. 

On the strength of a standout senior campaign, he has continued to climb the all-time career scoring record, recently cracking the top 10.

"He's been through a lot and he had many other options other than Penn State but he chose Penn State," Chambers said. "He too could have left in this world that we live in. He did not. He believed in what we were doing. He wanted to see this thing through. What a great example he is for the rest of our team and the guys who are coming in. That's a guy who I am always going to refer to, to say hey, this is what this guy did."

In mid-November 2015, Penn State announced the signing of its highest-ranked recruiting class in program history featuring Roman Catholic standouts Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr and Nazeer Bostick. All three from the same high school as three-time All-Catholic, all-state selection Shep Garner.

When Chambers is asked about recruiting success in Philadelphia though, there's the Garner's.

"If DJ [Newbill] opened the door, Shep threw that thing wide open," Chambers said.

Chambers certainly doesn't stop at Shep though, giving credit back to the one person responsible for shaping exactly the attitude you'd want in a Nittany Lion. Kim Garner.

"She helped recruit these kids," Chambers said. "That's what it is, the families, the players, all coming from the same area, from the same school. You can't deny that. What a special family."

At every pregame training table, Chambers picks a member of the program to lead the team in prayer. His most frequent selection, is Julian Moore.

Much like Garner, Moore, or "reverend Moore" as he's sometimes called by his teammates, has also seen it all. Maybe even a bit more for the fifth-year senior too, considering his freshman year was cut short by injury in 2013-14.

"The players respond to him and his message and his words," Chambers said. "It's just unbelievable. Regardless of how many minutes he has played, how many points he has played, he's going to leave a legacy with this program. One of a guy who is loyal, committed and who played his role to the best of his ability."

For Reaves, there's Garner's leadership, but there's nobody on the team more inspiring than Moore.

Among selecting all the best passages and quotes for the team prayer, it's Moore who knows just how to approach certain teammates when certain situations arise. 

"I love him to death and I'll always have Julian's back no matter what," Reaves said. "As far as a leader, he knows what he's doing. He's trying to help out the other bigs and get with them to improve and you're seeing that each and every night."

Not one to focus on the headlines, Moore is making the most of seeing his final season out, averaging nearly 13 minutes per game across the last nine outings. In 14 minutes at No. 6 Purdue, Moore scored a Big Ten season-high six points.

Upon summer graduation prior to the 2017-18 season, the opportunity to pursue another program was certainly something he could have considered

"He had a chance to leave too," Chambers said. He's a throwback. He stayed. He gutted this thing out."

Gene Harris Talks Black History Month

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Throughout the entire month of February, Penn State Athletics is proudly sharing the stories of its student-athletes and coaches who have shaped Nittany Lion history.

A Nittany Lion record holder, Gene Harris served as team captain his senior season, lettering from 1960-62. During the 1961-62 season, Harris scored a record 46 points on December 27th against Holy Cross in the Quaker City Tournament.

"The early sixties were a time of transition on college campuses and sports," Harris said. "There weren't that many African American players in any of the sports."

Drawn to Penn State by way of an athletic scholarship, Harris immediately found campus to be a friendly environment as he fondly looks back at his time in Happy Valley.

In the second of a multi-part video series, hear from Harris as he recounts his experience.

Click here for more Black History Month coverage.

Carr Powers Penn State Past No. 8 Buckeyes

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State sophomore Tony Carr subbed out of the game with 1:27 left on the clock, an energized Bryce Jordan Center crowd stood up to roar. 

With the Nittany Lions inches from completing their second series sweep against Ohio State in the Patrick Chambers era, it's a moment Carr will never forget.

In front of nearly 11,000 clad in white, Carr powered Penn State past No. 8/9 Ohio State for a 79-56 victory. It's the fourth straight for Penn State, moving the Nittany Lions to 19-9 on the year and 9-6 in conference play.

"Life is all about memories and moments like that," Carr said following his fourth 30-point performance of the season. "I just want to cherish it."

Long before hordes of students stormed the court in a postgame frenzy, the buzz in the BJC was clearly palpable. Penn State students poured into their seats as early as an hour before the first whistle, quickly spilling into every available overflow section.

Even Chambers noticed. Something special was about to go down.

Trailing 4-2 early in the game, Penn State wasted little time getting fired up, using a 15-2 run capped off by Carr's second triple of the night to jump ahead by as many as 11, 17-6. 

The Nittany Lions then widened their advantage to as many as 14, holding Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop without a single point until the clock ticked down to the 7:45 mark in the first half. 

The Buckeyes managed to trim the deficit to nine, 25-16, but Penn State confidently answered with a 7-0 run punctuated by back-to-back triples from Carr and junior Josh Reaves.

"It was important to keep our confidence that way," Chambers said. "We talked about one possession. Don't think about the end result, don't think about when the buzzer's going to go off. Think about the next possession. Take care of the possession that's in front of us and that's all you can control." 

The Nittany Lions would not be derailed, using a 13-2 run spanning nearly four minutes to close out the first half with a 24-point lead, 45-21. 

It was Carr who sent the crowd into pure pandemonium, snatching the ball from mid-air off a Reaves baseline heave before crashing to the ground in between a pair of fallen Buckeyes to see the ball fall through the hoop for the and-1. He nailed the free throw attempt with one second left on the clock. 

"We go over that play sometimes but it never ends like that," Carr said. "That was crazy. I heard coach yell so I knew Josh was going to throw it, but everything just worked out perfectly that play."

Penn State went 5-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half, with Ohio State headed into the locker room at 0-for-7.

"Everybody really contributed to really slowing down Ohio State," Chamber said. "I've seen them score in bunches and the game is over like that. For us to really draw that line in the sand and really defend and guard those guys is big for our confidence." 

The Nittany Lions held the Buckeyes to a season-low 56 points, keeping Bates-Diop to 10 points and Jae'Sean Tate to six.

The mark in the sand went from a line to a trench as The Nittany Lions quickly bolstered the lead to as many as 30 out of the break. Penn State would only strengthen its defensive grip, wihtout letting the lead dip below 16 for the remainder of the second half.

"When the pieces come together it's fun to be a part of, it's fun to watch," Chambers said.

There's no denying Penn State has endured its fair share of challenges throughout the year, but for Chambers, Thursday marks one more step.

"Early in the season we took some hits," Chambers said. "We learned from failure. We really did. We learned from those setbacks on how to respond to those situations, on how to respond to adversity. You can see it in our guys' body language and in our faces. They were just so determined tonight not to let them back in it in the second half."

Pregame Reading: Nittany Lions Ready for Ohio State Finale

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since Penn State's stunning buzzer-beater victory on the road at Ohio State in late January, there's no doubting the Nittany Lions have perhaps the most momentum they've had all season. With wins in four of its next five games Penn State has won its last three straight, returning home to the Bryce Jordan Center fresh off a road win at Illinois.

The Illinois win moved Penn State to 8-5 in conference play, good for sixth in the standings, also marking the most league wins for the program since the 2010-11 season.

Now set to meet Ohio State Thursday in an 8 p.m. tipoff, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers is calling for white out conditions.

"To be able to win the way we did just shows the growth of the program and the talent and buy in of the program," Chambers said. "Really, if that doesn't get you excited to come Thursday night - 8 p.m., whiteout. We need everybody to show these guys support because they play a fun style." 

Bench Development
Increased bench production has been a point of emphasis for Chambers throughout the season. With foul trouble nagging at the Nittany Lions, Chambers was pleased with what he saw from the bench against the Illini.

"I was super excited for our bench guys, Nazeer [Bostick], Johnny [John Harrar] and Jamari [Wheeler] and Julian [Moore]," Chambers said. "They were fantastic to hold down the fort while we were in foul trouble there. I thought they gave us great, great minutes and I let them know that during the game and I let them know that after the game."

Bostick finished one point shy of a Big Ten career-high mark with seven points against the Illini. Wheeler, who currently ranks second in the Big Ten with 42 steals on the year, also dished out three assists in addition to a pair of steals.

All About Us
Headed into a final regular season matchup against Ohio State, Chambers noted the focus still remains on the Nittany Lions.

"It's really about us and what we can control, what we do, what our principles are, what our foundation is and what our mental conditioning says and states," Chambers said. "It's really about us again, to keep taking steps and getting better."

That step-by-step approach to getting better has been a staple of Penn State's continued development throughout the season and something the Nittany Lions have started to see coming together. 

"That's a massive marginal gain at the end of it," Chambers said. "That means you're getting five or 10 and 20 percent better every time you step on the floor or in film sessions. That's the goal with the team right now. Stay present, stay right here, get a little bit better, get that one percent better and then God willing, get ready to compete against Ohio State."

Speaking of Ohio State ...
Penn State's win against the Buckeyes earlier this season was one to remember for sure as the Nittany Lions knocked off then-No. 13 Ohio State for a victory against its highest ranked opponent on the road since 2009. 

It was Carr's three at the buzzer the secured the win, as the Nittany Lions shot a school record 78.6 percent from the 3-point line. Marking its best performance of the year, Penn State went 11-for-14 from behind the arc and 5-for-5 in the second half.

As Chambers noted though, the Nittany Lions aren't exactly going into Thursday banking on another record-setting night from 3-point range.

"I would say if we can defend and rebound like we did in the second half at Illinois, holding them to 16 points, that was be pretty good," Chambers said. "It goes back to our foundation, our identity and who we are. If the shots aren't falling, well now we have to rely on our defense and our rebounding. If we can defend and rebound and get out in transition, well now you're getting easy baskets and you might not need 11 three's. Now you just need good quality shots."

A Bit on Bates-Diop
Chambers called Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop one of the best in the Big Ten and the Nittany Lions will have to contend with his ability to make clutch plays when called upon. 

Just 10 days ago Bates-Diop reached the 1,100 career points mark following a 35-point outing against Illinois. Heading into the matchup he's currently ranked second in the conference with

11 double-doubles on the year. Ranked first in the Big Ten averaging 19.9 points per game, he's also ranked first in the conference and 15th nationally averaging 7.52 defensive boards per game.

Penn State Friday Five

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball returns home from a heavy road stretch to host Iowa Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.

It's been two months to the day since the last time the Nittany Lions and the Hawkeyes met with Penn State opening the early part of the Big Ten schedule with a 77-73 win on the road in Iowa City.

Following a mid-week Big Ten road loss at Michigan State, Penn State's Tony Carr met with members of the media for an update ahead of the first of two consecutive home outings, with Maryland set to visit Wednesday, Feb. 7 for a 6:30 p.m. tip.

From the Spartans to budding confidence and belief, it's the Friday hoops five to kick off another stacked Penn State weekend in Happy Valley.

Home Sweet Home
On the heels of its largest home crowd since 2011, Penn State has settled into some home court advantage this year. On the season, 11 of Penn State's 15 total wins have come at home, with the Nittany Lions owning an 11-3 mark in the Bryce Jordan Center.

With seven games left in the regular season, including four at home, Penn State already has the most home wins since the 2010-11 season when the Nittany Lions went 13-5.

Recapping Michigan State
Penn State led by as many as 12, but came up short after the Spartans used a second-half surge to clip a two-game Nittany Lion winning streak.

"They made shots," Carr said. "We were dealing with some foul trouble, some guys were out for an extended period of time but they made a great run that we couldn't withstand that led them to a win."

Although the Spartans were ultimately boosted by a 52-point second half, Penn State will have to find a way to halt a big second half Saturday. Iowa enters the matchup having scored at least 50 points or more in the final frame five times this year, including each of the last two games - most notably with a 57-point second half in its most recent win against Minnesota. 

The Hardest Days
Earlier this week, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers noted that the hardest days are January to February. Much like he said prior to the trip to East Lansing, things can still go a lot of different directions for the Nittany Lions. If there's anything from his pre-Michigan State presser though, it's that staying present and making small steps toward getting better have to be the focus down the stretch.

"I think our 'why' is to keep getting better, to be the best team that we can be by the end of the year," Chambers said. "These kids came here and they took a chance on us and they wanted to come here together to do something special."

Building Belief
Chambers also noted early this week that there's a clear belief among the Nittany Lions when it comes to truly believing in one another on any given night. It's something Carr has also seen develop since he arrived on campus for his freshman year last season. 

"I've definitely seen the belief develop," Carr said. "We all go through the trials and tribulations together and we all know what it feels like to be down and we know what it feels like to be up and we know what it takes to win these games now. Coach is just on us every day about being consistent and having that same energy and effort and hopefully that leads us to winning games." 

Finishing it Out
With seven games remaining in the regular season, Carr noted the mentality right now is right where it needs to be, knowing that the ability to compete with anybody no matter the location is engrained in the mindset.

To close it though, for Carr, it's going to take some mental toughness. 

"I would say, we just have to be mentally strong," Carr said. "We go on the road and we're here and some night shots might not be falling, some nights the whistle may be against us. We just have to stay mentally strong through it all. The crowds get loud on the road, teams make runs, so I would just say that mental part of it."

Nittany Lions Move One Step Closer

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From an emotional beginning to an emphatic ending, Penn State hoops entertained an energized crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center Saturday afternoon. In front of a season-high crowd clad in bright colors, Penn State defeated Rutgers marking its first back-to-back Big Ten win this year.

Coming off a thrilling road win at No. 13 Ohio State Thursday, even Chambers noted there was concern on his mind.

"Usually a win like that in that type of fashion against a top 15 team, especially Ohio State, You're worried about how we would respond," Chambers said. "You're worried about all the tweets and text messages, all that, getting in their head." 

In the tale of two halves Saturday, what might have looked like Chambers' worst fear, turned out to be another step in the process.  

Penn State and Rutgers kept it close in the first half until Tony Carr sent the Nittany Lions into the locker room with each of last five points in a 7-0 run for a 28-23 advantage. Despite foul trouble and shooting slumps, Penn State upgraded its defense to spark its second half offense.

"We really drew that line in the sand - and we were going get stops and I challenged this team the last two days about rebounding," Chambers said. "This is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big Ten, this is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten."

Penn State dominated the Scarlet Knights on the boards, out-rebounding Rutgers 42-27, with just two offensive grabs.

After holding Rutgers to 28.6 percent shooting in the first half, the Nittany Lions came out of the break with a 7-0 run to build a double figure lead that they would hardly relinquish before closing out the 60-43 win. 

Bolstered once again by the energy of Josh Reaves' return, for him, the adjustment came down to communication.

"We were just communicating, talking, pointing, doing everything we could to help each other out," Reaves said. "They're a very good team, very physical team and we managed to get a win. They're a very big team with 7-footers coming off the bench and they play very well together."

Reaves was just one of three double figure scorers for the Nittany lions, finishing tied for second on the team with 15 points, adding four steals and a block. Carr led the way offensively for the Nittany Lions, scoring 16 points to go along with four assists. 

Mike Watkins powered the defense with 15 points and 19 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season. With 19 boards, Watkins grabbed the most rebounds for a Nittany Lion since Aaron Johnson had 21 against Northwestern on Jan. 15, 2005.

Postgame, while reflecting on the emotion of a successful THON game, Chambers was of course passionate about the cause, but it perhaps all became a little bit brighter in the outcome on the court.

"There's plenty of examples about a good win and then coming back and not being sharp, not having that mental toughness to be able to come back and play the same 40 minutes or I've been saying the full 200 minutes, collectively," Chambers said. "I'm not going to say it's a breakthrough, this is a process. We have to buy into this process, take it one day at a time, one step at a time."

@GOPSUSPORTS

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