Nittany Lions Drop 98 on Bucknell to Reach 4-0
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Nittany Lions were a bucket short of reaching the century mark for the first time since 2017 in their 98-70 home victory over Bucknell on Tuesday night.
The Nittany Lions are now 4-0 for only the second time under head coach Patrick Chambers. The other instance was in 2017-18: a season that ended an NIT tournament victory for Penn State.
For a team often prided on its defensive play, the Nittany Lions have been electric on offense this season. Penn State entered Tuesday averaging 85 points per game and shooting 40% from 3-point range. Tuesday’s win marks the first time in program history that Penn State has scored at least 80 points in each of its first four games.
“We have a lot of talent,” Chambers said. “We have guys who can score inside, and we have guys who can really shoot the ball. They put the work in. The connection that they have really shows out there.”
Although it was the highest-scoring first half for Penn State all season, it looked as if the Nittany Lions were initially on upset alert. A competitive first half from Bucknell left the score at 45-42 in favor of Penn State. The defense was far from its sharpest, as the Bison consistently found holes in the paint for easy buckets.
But the second half was a completely different story. An 8-0 Penn State run out of halftime set the tone for the rest of the game. The Nittany Lions remained hot on offense, scoring 53 in the last 20 minutes on 19-of-32 shooting, and the defense tightened up, holding Bucknell to 28 second-half points on 12-of-33 from the field.
Senior forward Lamar Stevens was especially hot. After a disappointing first half in which he only scored six points shooting 3-for-6, Stevens exploded in the second half with a performance that featured 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a pair of jaw-dropping dunks that solidified Penn State’s role as the enforcer. Stevens’ 27 points were just three shy of matching his career high of 30 against Marquette in the 2018 NIT quarterfinals.
“As a senior, as leader of this team, it was my job to find a way to impact the game, whether it was scoring or defense,” Stevens said. “It just so happened that [my team] found me for opportunities and ways to score. I just took advantage of the opportunities I had.”
Chambers had high praise for the preseason All-Big Ten nominee.
“I thought Lamar Stevens showed why he’s a candidate for player of the year,” Chambers said. “He really stepped up. His energy, his effort and his enthusiasm really dominoed through the rest of the team.”
Senior forward Mike Watkins was also a standout, scoring 18 and grabbing five boards: a number that gave him a spot in the top five for Penn State’s all-time rebounding leaders.
Junior guard Jamari Wheeler also had one of his best all-around efforts, recording 10 points, two steals and two rebounds, despite bruising his elbow early on in the contest.
“[Wheeler] is so crafty and sneaky, and that’s what we need him to do,” Chambers said. “His leadership impacts the entire game, not just the defensive end. He sets the tone for this team with toughness, he sets the table on the offensive end, and he sets the tone on the defensive end. That’s a special talent.”
Although the Nittany Lions haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2011, they’re gaining attention from national publications as a team to watch out for. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Penn State slated as a No. 11 seed in his latest tournament projection, and NCAA reporter Andy Katz placed Penn State at No. 20 in his most recent Power 36 rankings. The Nittany Lions even earned votes in the Week 3 edition of the Coaches Poll, marking the earliest instance in program history that Penn State has received votes in either poll.
The Nittany Lions will finish their two-game homestand on Saturday against Yale before traveling to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament alongside tough competition in Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Syracuse. With the spotlight shining on Happy Valley, it’s time to see if Penn State can finally rise to the occasion.
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.