Lions hold off No. 13 Hokies in last seconds
By Paddy Cotter
For the Mirror
UNIVERSITY PARK — The stress of the last two minutes between Penn State and No. 13 Virginia Tech was overwhelming Tuesday night at the Jordan Center.
With a 63-60 lead, the Lions needed a strong finish to their best effort of the year to pull off an upset. Overcoming situations that were mounted in pressure, the Lions held on to their slim lead to win, 63-62 as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“I just reminded them that we’re going to win this game,” the Lions’ Lamar Stevens said about his conversations with teammates during the grueling finish. “One more stop. One more rebound. And they did that”
The biggest help against the Hokies was almost 7 feet tall and hadn’t played since last February.
Mike Watkins, who missed the end of last season with a leg injury and missed the start of this season for disciplinary reasons, checked into the game soon after the opening tip.
“He changes their team,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said of the Nittany Lions’ big man. “Different type of skill set than other guys.”
Myreon Jones, one of the Lions’ three talented freshman, led the team with 18 points. So far, that class has a habit of only having one player play well in a game. The hero has varied from game to game.
“It’d be nice if they all played great together,” Chambers said of the freshmen. “It was only a matter of time (for Jones).”
Stevens usually leads the Lions in scoring every game, but was limited by the Hokies’ aggressive approach. His biggest impact was on the defense end and through sharing on offense.
“It’s a great testament to how good of a team we can be,” Stevens said. “When everybody is really clicking, we’re a big time team.”
The Lions, who lost to Bradley last week, came out swinging.
“These guys were so in tune,” Chambers said. “So dialed in.”
The Hokies’ Ty Outlaw made his first four 3-point attempts, helping negate a strong rebounding performance by the Lions at the start of the game.
Just past the midway point of the first half, the Lions went on an inspired scoring streak that revealed just how good they can be when their play matches their potential. The Lions nailed two 3-points to go along with two field goals from Stevens to take a 23-21 lead.
The teams exchanged the lead four times before halftime. Justin Robinson knocked down consecutive 3-pointers to give the Hokies 37-35 lead.
Chambers’ primary defensive goal was to limit Robinson, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
“Everything was about Robinson for me,” Chambers said.
Penn State’s defense was dominant throughout the second half. Watkins and John Harrah had impressive blocks and Josh Reaves got a steal. Only four Hokies scored during the game, and the unit looked shaken during that stretch.
The addition of Watkins had a very noticeable impact as the game progressed.
“They know that they can play carefree,” Chambers said of Watkins’ teammates. “His ability to protect the rim really helped us in the second half.”
Despite the Lions’ effort and playmaking, they were unable to get any separation. Things started to unravel as the Lions’ 3-point lead became a 6-point deficit near the midpoint of the second half. The dominance that the Hokies suddenly asserted was deflating and made the Lions’ monumental effort appear futile.
“We knew they were going to go on runs. We we’re going to go on runs,” Chambers said. “We needed our guys to take ownership at that point.”
Penn State took a 63-60 lead with three minutes left. Its defense went on lockdown and their offense went cold. The Hokies missed five shots and the Lions forced three turnovers.
The Lions will have another shot at a ranked opponent on Saturday at Maryland as a continued part of the ACC/Big Ten challenge. With the kind of defense they showed against a potent Hokies offense, the Lions have a big opportunity to start building that resume.
“I feel like we’re getting closer to who we need to be with Mike back,” Chambers said.
VIRGINIA TECH (62): Robinson 6-12 3-4 19, Blackshear Jr. 5-11 3-5 14, Alexander-Walker 5-11 2-4 13, Hill 0-6 0-0 0, Bede 0-0 0-0 0, Outlaw 6-9 0-0 16, Horne 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 22-50 8-13 62.
PENN STATE (63): Stevens 6-16 2-2 14, Wheeler 3-6 0-0 7, Reaves 2-5 2-3 6, Harrar 1-1 0-1 2, Dread 0-5 0-1 0, Jones 7-11 0-0 18, Bolton 4-10 0-0 11, Buttrick 1-1 0-0 3, Watkins 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 25-57 4-7 63.
Halftime: Penn State, 37-35. 3-point field goals: Virginia Tech 10-19 (Robinson 4-6, Blackshear Jr. 1-2, Alexander-Walker 1-3, Hill 0-3, Outlaw 4-5). Penn State 9-29 (Stevens 0-3, Wheeler 1-4, Reaves 0-2, Dread 0-5, Jones 4-8, Bolton 3-6, Buttrick 1-1. Rebounds: Virginia Tech 29 (Blackshear Jr. 9). Penn State 36 (Stevens 8). Referes: Bo Boroski, Terry Ogelsby, Kelly Pfeiffer. Attendance: 8,373. Records: Virginia Tech (5-1), Penn State (4-2).