University Park—If Rutgers plans to have any success in the NCAA Tournament they have to figure out a way to play forty-minutes of basketball.
Trailing for most of the game, Rutgers took a two-point lead when Geo Baker scored with 42 seconds to play in the game.
Myles Dread then came down the court and hit a 3-pointer to give Penn State the lead and a defensive stop closed it out before 8,345 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center. It was a crucial win for the Lions, as it moves into a tie for second place in the Big Ten conference.
“Obviously that’s a tough game for us,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Give Penn State a lot of credit for hitting that last shot. We needed to get a stop, didn’t. Came back to take the lead there, but just couldn’t finish it up with that defensive stop down the stretch. I love Akwasi. He said, ‘Coach, I was teeing that up.’ I liked that kind of confidence, and (the shot) looked good. But it didn’t go.”
Rutgers (18-11, 9-9 Big Ten) dropped their seventh straight road game, falling to 1-10 away from the Rutgers Athletic Center this season. It also marked Rutgers’ sixth loss in the last eight games.
Jamari Wheeler and Izaiah Brockington each hit 3-pointers from downtown early, which helped fill the void left by Myreon Jones, who was out for the 6th game. PSU led 10-2 at the first break. Five different Penn State players scored before Lamar Stevens got his first basket.
Curtis Jones played 11 minutes in the first half and handled the ball-handling duties while he was in the game. Jones brings a new type of intensity to the game on the defensive side of the ball.
Myles Dread hit a trey and Mike Watkins made a layup to RU on their heels. 8 different Penn State players had scored, leading 23-14. Dread had 7 assists in the first half, this one coming to Watkins to stretch their lead to 14 points.
Dread hit Watkins on a backdoor cut for another quick dunk to stretch the lead to 33-17 with 5 minutes to go before the break. With 3 minutes to play the lead got to 21 points and Rutgers looked disparage and dejected on the court. The Knights went over 6 minutes without a basket while the Lions shot 50% and made 6 of 13 from downtown in the first half.
Rutgers didn’t lead until the final minute of the game and was down at intermission 42-24.
The first-half numbers were dismal for Rutgers, which shot 31 percent from the field (compared to Penn State’s 50 percent), 0-for-5 from 3-point range (Penn State went 6-for-13), and saw the Nittany Lions hold a 14-3 edge in points-off-turnovers.
“We spotted them 21 points — that’s a tough way to get started on the road,” Pikiell said. “We got down a lot. I didn’t like our energy. We had a great practice, too, yesterday. We just didn’t get off to a good start, and (Penn State) played with tremendous energy in the first half. You’ve gotta play better than that against a ranked team with really good players.”
Rutgers cut into the lead early in the second half with some good shooting while the Lions lost their way on offense, getting as close as 10. Penn State answered back and led 49-35 with 15 minutes to play. Rutgers cut it down to single digits and Pat Chambers called a timeout. Moments later it was a 51-46 game and though the Lions led, momentum was heading the other way.
Rutgers cut the lead to 1 before Lamar Stevens hit a tough shot to end the run. A steal by Myles Dread led to free throws for Stevens, but he missed the front end of a 1 and 1 with 9 minutes to play. Stevens hit a layup to give the team a 55-50 lead on the next trip down the court. It was clear that the ball was going through the senior leader.
Penn State never squandered the lead, scoring the next nine points to extend its lead back to double digits. The Scarlet Knights cut that deficit in half over the next three minutes and pulled within two points when Akwasi Yeboah drained a 3-pointer with 2:20 to play.
Yeboah missed a 3-pointer on Rutgers’ next possession, but Geo Baker banked in a putback with 1:32 to play to knot the score at 62 apiece.
The Nittany Lions missed two free throws at the other end, and Baker gave Rutgers its first lead of the game with 42 seconds to play by draining a 19-foot jumper.
But it was the Lions that made shots and played defense in the waning minutes of the game to seal it.
“You’re going to have to make plays at that time,” Pikiell said. “They went and jumped Geo. I liked the look actually. I thought Akwasi had clean look at it. I didn’t like the defensive stop. That’s what cost us the game.