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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Hold Off Minnesota for 83-77 Win

on February 08, 2020 7:40 PM

A game is the navigation of moments. A season, the sum total of how those moments ended, the good and the bad. The things that went for you, and the ones that went against you.

Saturday, and Penn State's 83-77 win over Minnesota was no different.

There was the moment at large, Penn State sitting near the top of the Big Ten standings coming off a season defining road victory over Michigan State.

The Bryce Jordan Center was packed to the gills for the first time in almost a decade. This was a moment that went beyond basketball, it was a brief stoppage in time where those big dreams and lofty ambitions could be realized. Players had gone to Penn State chasing this moment, just a taste of what Penn State basketball could be in the face of what it often is.

So former players sat in the stands, perhaps enjoying the moment the most. Talor Battle cheered with the crowd, his career creating a similar moment like this, the first chapter in a long journey to this moment. Saturday afternoon was the kind of thing longtime supporters have dreamed about. Lines out the doors, the rafters shaking with anticipation. And for the first time in over two decades, a real shot at a Big Ten regular season crown.

But first, the game, and the moments that came with it.

Penn State started strong, going up early for what would be a wire-to-wire win. The Gophers were largely rudderless short of Daniel Oturu's work down low en route to a nearly unstoppable 32-point outing. Penn State answered a singular attack with relative balance, all without star guard Myreon Jones who sat out Saturday's game with a cold. That storyline alone a moment enough to swing an entire game. Could Penn State win this game without a key player?

That moment didn't account for Lamar Stevens.

A senior, one who returned to Penn State for a season exactly like this, stepped up once again when his team needed him to. This was as much his moment as anyone else's. Not always the most efficient scorer, Stevens was efficient in the paint, sharp from his usual midrange spots and timely with his two made threes. His 11-for-21 outing as much a product of well timed shotmaking as anything else. His 33 points the answer to the question of who might shoulder Jones' scoring load. An answer to the question if Penn State's biggest star was ready for yet another moment when all the eyes would be on him.

By the half Penn State found itself ahead 36-22, a product of Minnesota's one-man show and the Nittany Lions' slightly more balanced attack. All the same, the Gophers still felt within reach, an 0-for-7 mark from beyond the arc felt like something almost certainly bound to change in the second half. Penn State's shortened bench without Jones and a foul-ridden Mike Watkins a challenge in its own right.

Penn State would grow that lead to 19 with 15:53 to go in the second half, a margin largely the result of Minnesota shooting fouls.

But then it was another moment, the one when the Gophers found their stroke. Guard Marcus Carr added 20 points to his name, 18 of those in the second half. 

In a matter of minutes Minnesota caught fire, erasing that 19-point margin to just eight with 7:53 to go, the crowd tense and uncertain. Penn State had reached another moment now ahead buy just six a few seconds later, then by just three with 4:48 on the clock.

This moment was the kind that reminds you how far the program has come. A flashback to years ago as Pat Chambers stood on the sideline before practice talking to a group of reporters.

"It's this small," Chambers said holding out his fingers. "The margin of error."

In 2020 the room for error has widened, the Nittany Lions' six-game winning streak has not been the product of perfect basketball, nor without its glaring issues. All the same it has been a moment -another one- where the Nittany Lions have learned one of sport's most important lessons about winning : You don't have to be perfect, you just have to find a way to be good enough.

With 4:07 to go Lamar Stevens converted an And-1 play.

With 3:33 to go Curtis Jones Jr grabbed a rebound.

With 3:13 to go Myles Dread faked his shot, and then launched a three. Nothing but net.

A three point lead turned to nine, then 10, never closer than six in the game's final 20 seconds. A moment overcome, a punch taken, a haymaker thrown.

"I think it shows again, the maturity of this team," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after the game. "All the crazy experiences that we've been through over Mike's and Lamar's careers are starting to pay off. I'm talking to these guys in huddles about what they see out there what they feel out there, what's working out there and getting really mature feedback. And that's what that's how we're finding success."

Penn State has now won six-straight games in Big Ten play, good enough for a tie with Illinois for second place in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions will head to Purdue next week before returning to host Northwestern next Saturday. 

Nothing about playing in the Big Ten is easy, nothing about Penn State's remaining regular season games will be either.

But as the Nittany Lions improved to to 18-5 on the year, they overcame another moment, and enjoyed it in the process.

"I'm just ready for more basketball," Stevens said with a small grin.

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