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Penn State Hoops Bounces Back With 85-64 Win Over Syracuse In NIT Season Tip-Off Consolation Game

After a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss Wednesday night, Penn State (6-1) bounced back with a solid 85-64 victory over Syracuse (4-3) in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament consolation game.

Going up against Syracuse’s unique 2-3 zone defense, Mike Watkins was the x-factor as the Nittany Lions pushed through to get a quality win against a Power Five opponent. Syracuse had won its last 11 matchups against Penn State dating back to the early 1980s prior to tonight’s game.

How It Happened

Watkins had a defensive presence early in the game, with an early block and a couple of rebounds. He also contributed offensively, scoring the first two points for the Nittany Lions. He was easily the best player on the floor before the first media timeout, having four rebounds and two blocks before the stop of play.

With Watkins getting a lot of attention coming out of the break, Lamar Stevens was able to break free and grab a rebound and a put-back shot. On the following possession, Myreon Jones hit a long three with two defenders close by him.

Stevens dominated in transition all night long. He had a fancy layup and on the next possession, he drew a foul, following which he made both free throws. Jamari Wheeler joined the transition party with a quick layup of his own, giving the Nittany Lions a 9-0 run before Syracuse called a timeout.

Myles Dread continued the Nittany Lions run with a three-pointer, and Syracuse ended its scoring drought with a second-chance basket. The Orange were then able to score two three-pointers to rejuvenate their offense.

As the half closed, neither the Nittany Lions nor the Orange had clean possessions. At one point, the ball just rolled from one side of the court to the other with players from both teams on the ground clawing for the ball. Watkins ended the sloppy play by scoring a layup. The Orange responded with a three, and Lamar Stevens had a putback layup. Syracuse went on a 12-4 run to end the half, but Penn State still led 34-27.

It was a slow start offensively in the second half, but Syracuse had a nice lob for its first points of the half. The Orange came out with a lot more swagger than the Nittany Lions did, drawing fouls and picking up rebounds in spots they didn’t in the first half.

Lamar Stevens got the first basket of the half for the Nittany Lions with a three-point shot. Curtis Jones Jr. added another three after a missed opportunity by the Orange. Jones Jr. then contributed a mid-range shot on the next possession.

Both teams then went back and forth making shots, as Dread made a three before the media timeout and ending the run between the two teams.

Lamar Stevens picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes to go, forcing the Nittany Lions to test out their bench’s depth. Seth Lundy responded well, making a midrange shot in his first attempt after coming in for Stevens.

Lundy, however, did pick up a flagrant-one foul after he was called for a hook-and-hold. The Orange only made one of their free throws and Lundy ended up making a three on the other end of the floor.

As the game wrapped up, Lamar Stevens finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, Mike Watkins totaled 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Myreon Jones finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Takeaways

  • Penn State played well against the zone. Syracuse’s iconic zone defense is the equivalent to Navy’s triple-option in football in the fact that no one else does it. It’s extremely hard to prepare for, especially in one day. So Pat Chambers deserves a lot of credit for getting this team ready to play and play well, especially after the heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss only 48 hours earlier.
  • Mike Watkins needs to play like this every game! He has proven to be a catalyst on both sides of the ball, and if Penn State is going to make any type of run in future, Watkins must be at his best.
  • The depth of the bench was tested tonight, and the Nittany Lions responded well. Curtis Jones Jr. finished with 14 points and a team-high four assists, while Seth Lundy chipped in 10 points. In order for this team to do well, the bench will have to play a much bigger role as sooner or later teams will shut down Watkins and Stevens. If Penn State wants to make a run, players such as Jones Jr. and Lundy need to play like this more often.

What’s Next

Penn State will return to Happy Valley for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Wake Forest on Wednesday, December 4 at 9:15 pm. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey is a freshmen majoring in Secondary Education. He is from Annapolis, Maryland and is a proud supporter of the great Baltimore Ravens and less than great Baltimore Orioles. He is a big Survivor fan and he watches way too much TV for his own good. Feel free to send memes and hot takes to [email protected] or @theowenabbey on Twitter.

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