UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball isn't the
same team it was a few months ago. Unsure if his Nittany Lions could have
pulled off the same comeback just a few weeks or even months ago, Penn State rallied
from behind to take down No. 24 Minnesota in a close 52-50 decision.
Returning to the roots of Penn State basketball, Chambers' renewed emphasis on fine tuning toughness when it comes to defense and rebounding, has only created trust and communication as a welcome byproduct along the way.
Saturday afternoon, Penn State displayed another chunk of how far its come in front of 11,759 fans inside the Bryce Jordan Center, even showing a little bit of where it's still headed.
"These guys have really grown up, they're committed, they're starting to build trust out there and they believe in us," Chambers said. "The connectivity of the program and this group right now is really in a good place. That's why you're able to win a tight game down as much as we were and be able to finish it off."
After trailing by as many as 14 in the first half, Chambers felt like his team could not play much worse, as it entered the locker room facing a double digit deficit.
The Nittany Lions quickly found themselves down by 11, 33-22 no more than a few minutes into the second half.
Striking the spark though, it was Julian Moore, connecting on a pair of dunks in between one from the Gophers to shave the gap to nine, 35-26.
The Nittany Lions then ignited the flame, as Payton Banks drained his first triple of the day to open an 11-3 run that pulled Penn State as close as one, 38-37, after Josh Reaves went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe.
Penn State wasn't stopping there, as a Mike Watkins and-1 gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game, 40-38, with fewer than 10 minutes to play in the second half.
The Golden Gophers refused to go away though, battling back-and-forth until a pair of free throws off of an intentional foul called on Reaves and another bucket, sent Minnesota back up by as many as four, 46-42.
As both teams stalled offensively, Penn State put together a 3-for-5 stretch from the free throw line to climb back within one, 46-45. Looking to pull ahead for good, the Golden Gophers capitalized on a Penn State miscue, connecting on a bucket off of a missed Nittany Lion dunk to go ahead by three, 48-45.
Calm under pressure, the Nittany Lions called a timeout to regroup, coming out of the break with another clutch 3-pointer from Banks to tie the score, 48-48.
Still, Minnesota answered back.
Fouled on a second chance attempt on the next offensive possession, Watkins came through with a pair of timely free throws to tie the score once again, 50-50, with 1:25 left on the clock.
Taking another timeout to regroup after a missed 3-pointer, Carr went driving in for the bucket with a mere seven seconds remaining in the game, drawing a foul.
Coming off of the ball screen, Chambers noted that Carr attacked the basket just as he was asked, but as Carr stepped up to the free throw line to attempt a pair of go-ahead shots, there wasn't much that Chambers or his teammates needed to say to him before the release.
"I looked at him and I said, just like practice," Reaves said.
Carr sank both shots, giving Penn State the 52-50 edge as the Golden Gophers heaved a near-half court attempt to try and force overtime at the buzzer.
"He wanted the basketball, so make or miss, no matter what happened today you have yourself a really good point guard who has a lot of courage," Chambers said.
Having shot less than 30 percent from the field in the first half with 10 turnovers, the Nittany Lions transformed a sluggish start into a fiery second half, all credit to tightening up on the defensive end, knowing in the locker room at halftime, that defense would be the key to emerging with a win.
"Every game in the second half we just kind of have this boost and we just ride that momentum but, that's a really good team," Reaves said.
Among a host of key contributors, Chamber noted postgame that it was Reaves who made up 90 percent of the victory.
With nine points and eight rebounds, Reaves wasn't the leading scorer or the team's top rebounder. Those honors went to Watkins, who finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds for his fourth career double-double, a Penn State freshman record.
Reaves did however, lead the the team with five steals and three assists, but that's just a small representation of how much he meant in the Penn State victory.
"His energy, his effort, his juice, his fire, his compete, his passion, his edge, he was unbelievable, he was all over the floor," Chambers said.
Not represented on the stat sheet, are a total of 39 "attitude points," kept internally by the team for plays that encompass all the little things.
"That's remarkable," Chambers said of Reaves' impressive tally. "That means you're getting things done."
As Chambers also noted, Reaves told him he wanted to be the heart and soul of the team. With the "torch accepted," there was no doubt Saturday that he was anything short of the team's driving heartbeat.
"I just go," Reaves said. "My second wind is really fast and it comes really fast and I don't try to think about getting tired because that's a mental thing," Reaves said.
Penn State remains home next week, with a quick turnaround before another Big Ten outing. The Nittany Lions welcome Indiana for a midweek matchup Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.