Defense shines in 2nd half
UNIVERSITY PARK — On a night when Lamar Stevens didn’t look — or feel — himself for over 30 minutes, it was almost as if he woke himself up.
Battling a cold, the senior was just 3-of-12 from the field and 2-of-7 from the charity stripe when he missed badly on an attempt from the line.
After that his coaches told him one thing.
“We just shouted at him, ‘play with confidence,'” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “Don’t even worry about that free throw.”
He responded by driving hard to the bucket two possessions later to move into third on Penn State’s all-time scoring list.
Stevens finished with a game-high 17 points as the Nittany Lions defeated Indiana, 64-49, at the Bryce Jordan Center in a game where both teams shot below 40 percent from the field.
With the win, Penn State surpassed its win total from 2018-19 with 11 games still to play in the regular season.
Penn State’s defense held an opponent below 50 points since its season-opening game against Maryland Eastern Shore. Four different Nittany Lions had multiple steals, three of which had four.
“That’s what Penn State basketball is,” Chambers said. “We’re supposed to defend and rebound. We’re supposed to play hard. We’re supposed to be jumping to the ball and communicating.”
Stevens followed up the record-setting bucket with another difficult putback after getting blocked by Indiana’s star freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis.
“It was one of those nights,” Stevens said. “I struggled at first, but my teammates believed in me and kept getting me the ball. It started falling for me, but I credit my teammates and my coaching staff for having the confidence in me to take those shots.”
He ended up scoring six straight points for Penn State to extend the Nittany Lion lead to 11 after being tied at the half. He also collected his 800th career rebound late in the game.
“We have a maturity, and we’re led by seniors,” Stevens said. “We’ve tried to pass the knowledge that we’ve been through to the younger guys, and I feel like it’s really showing through now. We have to have an intense focus to win every day, every practice and every game. As long as we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
It was a unique night for the Nittany Lions as it was their first game since the tragic passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
Tributes to the Pennsylvania-native Bryant were seen early and often throughout the game as the Nittany Lions warmed-up in No. 24 Penn State T-shirts. Nine beams of light shined down on the court pregame to honor the nine lives lost in the crash, including Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
It was also a revenge game of sorts for Curtis Jones Jr.
The senior guard faced Indiana for the first time since his transfer from the Hoosiers in 2018.
But nothing fazed Jones Jr. as he dropped 12 points, including two 3-pointers, to be the only other Nittany Lion in double-figures. He picked up right where he left off a week ago against Michigan when he had 18 points, all in the second half.
“We needed his production in the first half,” Chambers said. “This is what seniors are supposed to do.”
Jones’ only points of the second half on the night came with the game well in hand, but he still made a difficult spinning layup to put Penn State up 18 with a chance to get one more at the line.
Myles Dread also made two 3-pointers, his first game with multiple treys since also making two against Iowa at the beginning of the month. His 3-for-6 performance from the field is his best performance from the field in the last nine games.
His first 3pointer came right after he had just missed on another attempt.
“I was screaming at him, ‘shoot it again!'” Chambers said.
INDIANA (15-6): Durham 1-7 2-2 5, Jackson-Davis 5-9 4-4 14, Smith 6-8 0-0 13, Phinisee 0-6 0-0 0, Green 2-10 0-0 4, Davis 2-7 2-2 6, Franklin 0-3 1-2 1, Anderson 0-3 0-0 0, Brunk 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 19-57 9-10 49.
PENN ST. (15-5): Stevens 7-21 3-8 17, Wheeler 2-4 0-0 4, Dread 3-6 1-2 9, M.Jones 2-7 1-2 5, C.Jones 5-9 0-1 12, Harrar 2-3 0-0 4, Watkins 1-7 6-10 8, Lundy 1-3 0-0 3, Brockington 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 24-64 11-23 64.
Halftime–28-28. 3-Point Goals–Indiana 2-11 (Smith 1-1, Durham 1-3, Franklin 0-1, Phinisee 0-1, Anderson 0-2, Green 0-3), Penn St. 5-18 (C.Jones 2-4, Dread 2-5, Lundy 1-3, Stevens 0-2, M.Jones 0-4). Rebounds–Indiana 40 (Jackson-Davis, Smith 7), Penn St. 34 (Stevens 9). Assists–Indiana 9 (Phinisee 4), Penn St. 12 (Wheeler 5). Total Fouls–Indiana 18, Penn St. 12. A–7,656 (15,261).