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Penn State Hoops Secures Signature Win Of The Pat Chambers Era, Continues To Rise Up Big Ten Standings

On February 4, 2019, Penn State men’s basketball picked up its first Big Ten win of the season over Northwestern… in its 11th try. The 0-10 start in conference play did result in a 7-13 finish for Penn State last year, but even the respectable recovery wasn’t enough to keep some Nittany Lions fans from calling for head coach Pat Chambers’s head following the 14-18 finish to his eighth season at the helm of the program.

Fast forward 365 days later, and Chambers’s team is on the entire opposite end of the college basketball spectrum. Penn State appeared in the AP and Coaches’ Poll rankings for the sixth time in the last eight weeks entering Tuesday night’s trip to No. 16 Michigan State. The No. 22 Nittany Lions had won four straight games over the likes of traditional Big Ten powers like Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan.

The only game that featured two ranked teams all night, the Nittany Lions-Spartans affair had a frantic back-and-forth energy that turned the Breslin Center atmosphere into what one would expect from an elimination game. The lead changed eight times, as players from both teams delivered knockout-sized punches before Lamar Stevens iced the game for Penn State in the closing minutes at the free throw line. High-pressure situations like these were the achilles heel for Penn State last year when the team went 5-13 in games decided by 10 points or less. This year, the Nittany Lions have gone 6-3 in those close games.

Tuesday night was the culmination of many things for this program beyond just showing up in clutch moments. This was only Penn State’s second win in school history at the Breslin Center, joining a 72-68 victory back in February 2009. Penn State has won five straight Big Ten games for the first time in program history. The 17 wins over the first 22 games of the season now stands as the team’s second-best mark in the past 50 years, only trailing the 18-4 mark of the 1995-96 team. The fanbase is as supportive and invested as they’ve ever been, and all of these feats have come during one of the strongest years across the Big Ten in recent memory.

Chambers has always said all of the right things, but it’s finally coming together for his squad more than ever. He’s helped Stevens turn into one of the most versatile scorers in the country. Myreon Jones is one of the more promising underclassmen in the conference, taking massive leaps this year by increasing his scoring average from four points per game to 14 points per game.

Jamari Wheeler and Izaiah Brockington have formed a dream pairing for Chambers’s defense-first style. Mike Watkins has been much more consistent in his minutes this year than he did last season, and his peaks have been downright scary. The head coach has constantly preached the importance of taking each day ‘one at a time’ with the big man.

Chambers continued to maintain faith in a slumping Myles Dread, who all the sudden is consistently contributing at least two three-pointers per game for Penn State. The supporting cast of double transfer Curtis Jones Jr., junior big man John Harrar, freshman Seth Lundy have all played their parts at the right times throughout the season.

Sure, there were bumps in the road. Okay, admittedly there have been agonizing setbacks for this program over the last nine years — low points that included losses to Albany, Rider, Akron, and other schools that a Big Ten team has no business losing to. But that almost makes a night like Tuesday so much sweeter, as Chambers’s bunch picked up a historical road win in an instant classic against the conference’s perennial blue blood.

On Saturday, Penn State will host the last team that it lost to, Minnesota, in what will likely be one of the best basketball environments the Bryce Jordan Center has ever had. The Nittany Lions should have the chance to vault into the top 16-18 teams in the national polls with a win, and could share the lead in the Big Ten standings, uncharted territory for a team that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since Barack Obama’s first tenure in office.

There is beauty to the struggle that Chambers, Penn State’s players, and its fans have endured over the past few seasons of balls that didn’t bounce the Nittany Lions’ way or shots that didn’t fall. Now, the same team that made you curse at your TV after dropping a game to Bradley is a team that looks seriously poised to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament in March.

All the while, Pat Chambers has remained relatively the same level-headed coach throughout the ups and downs, echoing his ever-recogonizable mantra during his postgame interview following Tuesday night’s win.

“We’re climbing, that’s for sure. We’re climbing.”

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his role with Onward State, Mitch talks about all the #sprots on Penn State's CommRadio. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him as he yells on Twitter about Penn State basketball @mitchystew.

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