Penn State basketball pulled away and bounced back from a Wednesday loss to thump Syracuse 85-64 in Brooklyn on Friday night. The Nittany Lions improved to 6-1 on the year with the win following a 74-72 loss to Ole Miss earlier in the week.
The Nittany Lions led by as many as 15 in the first half before Syracuse was able to claw its way back into the game, trailing 34-27 at the break. The Orange's patented zone defense gave Penn State fits all night, forcing the Nittany Lions to shoot threes and hitting 10 of 31 attempts over the course of the evening.
Syracuse, meanwhile, had no answer for big man Mike Watkins, who led the way with 15 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. Watkins chipped in 10 offensive rebounds as the Nittany Lions collected 22 offensive boards to just eight by Syracuse.
Newcomers Seth Lundy and Curtis Jones both had positive nights off the bench for Penn State, contributing 10 and 14 points, respectively, as the Nittany Lions continue to lean on a deep roster with quality shooting potential.
Even so, the Orange stuck close in the second half. Tenacious defense and an onslaught of fouls in both directions led to Penn State star forward Lamar Stevens heading to the bench with four fouls to his name with 10:11 to go in regulation. Penn State managed to extend the lead by three during his absence but Syracuse remained within punching distance.
With five minutes to go Penn State led by just seven and foul trouble, coupled with the streaky nature of basketball and Wednesday night's blown 21-point lead, made things far less certain than the final score.
But Friday is not Wednesday and the Nittany Lions got over the hump, turning a close game into a 21-point victory as defense, free throws and timely shot-making blew the game wide open in the final five minutes. Stevens finished the night with a team-high 20 points despite the limited action. Myreon Jones continued his strong start with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
On the season, Penn State has allowed an average of 62.5 points a game, and has yet to allow more than 74 points in a contest. The Nittany Lions will head back to the Bryce Jordan Center to face Wake Forrest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday.