By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
PARK, Pa. - Arriving at seemingly just the right time, the ball bounced toward
Penn State today as the No. 13 seeded Nittany Lions knocked off No. 12 Nebraska
in a 76-67 overtime decision in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
metaphorical bounce in the right direction wasn't all luck though, as Penn
State head coach Patrick Chambers has routinely preached the Nittany Lions
would have to earn the right for the ball to bounce the right way, often on the
other end of some unpleasant bounces in the regular season.
time, Penn State jumped out to fast start, using a 7-0 run to featuring a dunk
and a block by Mike Watkins to send the Nittany Lions ahead by nine, 22-13. As
Watkins collected his first foul of the evening, the Huskers went 1-2 from the
free throw line to trim the gap. Following Lamar Stevens' first 3-pointer of
the day, Watkins connected on a layup to push the Penn State advantage to
came storming back, tying the score at 30-30 with less than five minutes to
play off of a 3-pointer from leading scorer Tai Webster, who the Nittany Lions
later limited to just two second-half points. Penn State regrouped, ratcheting up
the defense before heading into the locker room with a five-point lead, 38-33.
At the very
core of Penn State's regrouping effort, Watkins led the way, entering halftime
with a team-high 10 points, five blocks and five rebounds, breaking a Nittany
Lion single season freshman rebounds record originally set in 1952.
game in warmups, I just saw how locked in he was," Josh Reaves said. "Every time
we get that Mike it's a problem."
was merely heating up.
Nebraska shaving the Penn State advantage just one in the early part of the
second half, Watkins sparked a 10-4 run with a jumper and a slam, before Shep
Garner drained consecutive triples to lift the Nittany Lions ahead by nine,
50-41, with 11:27 to play.
as Penn State built its advantage though, the Huskers responded, arriving
within one twice more, tying the score off of a 3-pointer from Glynn Watson Jr.
with less than a minute to play.
way to the foul line, Carr went 2-2 to put Penn State on top by two, but
Nebraska responded again to tie the score, 60-60.
With Carr unable
to get to the line again, an audible inhale swelled among the Penn State bench
as the Huskers heaved a near half court shot out of the break with just a few seconds
on the clock.
left side of the backboard, the shot was no good and the Nittany Lions were
headed to overtime.
had bounced toward Penn State and it was time for the Nittany Lions to step up
and earn it.
for his second attempt of the day, Sevens opened overtime with his second
3-pointer on the night the Nittany Lions didn't look back.
huge," Chambers said, reflecting on the perfectly timed 3-ball. "The other
thing is, he earned the right to make that shot. He's in the gym shooting those
shots so it goes in and I wasn't surprised."
Equally as undeniably
huge though, was the performance from Watkins, who took control of the Nittany
Lion defense that limited the Huskers to fewer than 70 points for the 11th
time this season. Penn State's magic number, the Nittany Lions are 11-0 when
holding opponents to 70 or fewer points on the year.
the Nittany Lions on the boards with 11 rebounds, adding a Big Ten Tournament
record eight blocks. His presence was also critical to the offensive side of
the ball, finishing with a team-high 18 points for his eighth double-double of
"He has the
ability to do that every night on any given night against any given team,"
Reaves said. "It's crazy to watch and it's very comforting to have a big guy
back there who is able to do that and he just cleans up the glass like - well it
is his job, but it's crazy to watch."
Chambers, Watkins played with pure desire, which ultimately proved key when it
came down to execution, staying on his feet and keeping high hands to avoid
costly foul trouble.
exactly how he was going to go out and compete," Chambers said. "He bought into
the game plan since Monday, that kid is absolutely invested in Penn State
basketball and I think that's what you saw today," Chambers said.
It wasn't just
Watkins who arrived at the Verizon Center with a laser-like focus though.
just dialed in playing defense and they made their runs but we didn't deflate,
we banned together and we played a lot harder," Reaves said. "It was definitely
one of the better games defensively that we've played all year and I'm just so
proud that we were able to get it done."
All part of
the process, the "dialing in" began days in advance, as Chambers noted the
Nittany Lions asked to return to their October style practices, their roots, in
order to prepare for a Big Ten battle between two tough teams.
"We had a
good practice," Chambers said. "Short and hard, we went old school a little
bit. A little dive drill, a little charge drill, keeping everybody on their toes."
all week that the tougher team would emerge with the victory, Chambers took his
Nittany Lions back to the grind and the team returned with just the amount of
grit needed to advance.
wanted it, they said we have to go back a little bit to get our roots and get
our identity," Chambers said. "We found our identity today."
Penn State returns to action tomorrow at
approximately 2:30 p.m. (BTN), meeting fifth-ranked Michigan State. The Spartans went
18-13 overall and 9-8 in conference games earning first round bye heading in to
the Big Ten Tournament.
Reach Arielle at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent