PSU finishes off Terps
UNIVERSITY PARK — The crowd erupted as Mike Watkins got the rebound that secured Penn State’s 74-70 lead over Maryland with a few seconds left in the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night.
Even though the forward missed both attempts following a desperation foul, it didn’t matter. Led by Lamar Stevens, the Lions improved to 7-6 in the Big Ten and pushed their way closer to the NCAA tournament bubble.
“Lamar Stevens was off the charts tonight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We had no answer for him.”
Stevens, who finished with 25 points by making 83 percent of his shot attempts, was the primary source of the Lions’ offensive production throughout the contest. Coach Pat Chambers said that Stevens was energetic in practice heading into the matchup.
The dominant outing was helped by the absence of injured Terrapins Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender.
“They’ve suffered through a lot of injuries,” Stevens said. “I just saw spots where I’d be able to get in the post and score … and open up the rest of my game.”
The forward made his first five shot attempts. Turgeon noted that allowing Stevens to get confidence with a few open shots in the beginning of the game made him difficult to stop as the game progressed.
Kevin Huerter gave the Terrapins an early 6-point lead with a pair of deep jumpers, but the Lions’ perimeter game quickly erased the lead. Tony Carr, who usually plays best within the arc, made four of his six attempts from the three point line.
The teams traded leads for the rest of the first half as both offenses were in the groove. In the final 10 minutes of the half, the game was tied four times and featured three lead changes.
Rebounding and quality defense from the Lions was the difference maker in the final two minutes. Maryland didn’t score and the Lions took a 6-point lead into halftime.
Led by Stevens, the Lions maintained their buffer throughout second half.
The Terrapins didn’t make a shot from the field for almost five minutes during the middle of the final half. Josh Reaves, who recorded 14 points and 9 rebounds, led the Lions’ defensive effort. He was tasked with limiting Anthony Cowan Jr., who led his team with 15 points.
Reaves was helped by freshman Jamari Wheeler.
“He came in and took it up a notch,” Chambers said. “We desperately needed some of that energy.”
Just as it looked like Penn State was on the verge of making considerable separation, the Lions went as cold as the Terrapins offense. After a 3-pointer from Carr gave Penn State a 10-point lead at the eight minute mark, the Lions only scored two points from the free throw line for five minutes.
The Terrapins couldn’t capitalize, missing multiple shots and struggling to maintain possession. A Carr 3-pointer broke the drought as the Terrapins window of opportunity narrowed.
Maryland continued to push, but Penn State had a response for each brief run.
Three ranked Big Ten opponents (No. 14 Ohio State, No. 3 Purdue and No. 20 Michigan) await the Lions in their final five games. Even though the road is tough, victories in those matchups could put the Lions in meaningful postseason play.