Penn State Pulls Away from Syracuse
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Coming off of one of its worst losses in recent memory, Penn State bounced back and defeated Syracuse 85-64 on Friday night at Barclays Center.
As many may have anticipated, the Nittany Lions met the Orange in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off. However, the third place stakes were somewhat underwhelming.
Playing in front of a pro-Syracuse crowd, head coach Jim Boeheim and his notorious 2-3 zone forced Penn State into an abundance of deep perimeter shots early on.
It was Penn State’s defense and rebounding, however, that helped open up a 15-point lead in the first half.
The Nittany Lions were the more physical team all night long. Pat Chambers’ group contested seemingly every perimeter shot and looked to get out into transition before the Orange could set up its zone.
The Nittany Lions also outrebounded Syracuse 57-28. In particular, it was Penn State’s Mike Watkins that did most of the damage, as the senior forward grabbed 10 of the Nittany Lions’ 22 offensive boards. Syracuse only grabbed eight such as a whole.
“I’m surprised we were in the game,” Boeheim said. “You can’t play like that and expect to have a chance.”
Watkins stuffed the stat sheet for his second straight double-double, earning himself all-tournament honors in the process. The big man ended the night with 15 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
Junior Elijah Hughes was the only source of offense for the Orange in the first half. After its offense began to look a bit more fluent, Syracuse was able to claw its way back into the game, cutting the Penn State lead to 34-27 at the break.
The Nittany Lions, coming off of a game in which they blew a 16-point halftime lead to Ole Miss, encountered familiar territory with redemption on its mind.
“We talked about responding, we talked about the little things and we talked about mental conditioning,” Chambers said. “I’m really proud of the way we responded tonight.”
For a few minutes in the second half, though, it looked like Wednesday night all over again, as Syracuse went on an 8-0 run, highlighted by a steal and dunk from Hughes that tied the game at 35.
An onslaught of fouls and sloppy play on both sides allowed Syracuse to remain within striking distance up until the five-minute mark.
Penn State star forward Lamar Stevens found himself with four fouls with 10:11 to go in regulation. Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, they were able to hold their lead during Stevens’ absence thanks to key contributions from newcomers Seth Lundy and Curtis Jones Jr. off the bench.
Timely defensive stops and shot-making helped Penn State pull away in the end, as Stevens finished the night with a team-high 20 points despite foul trouble.
Penn State picked up its first win over Syracuse since 1975. The Nittany Lions move to 6-1 on the year and will travel back to the Bryce Jordan Center to face Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday.
Syracuse, on the other hand, drops to 4-3 and will face Iowa on Tuesday at the Carrier Dome.
“I don’t think we’re playing with confidence right now,” Boeheim said. “This is going to take time. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Pasquale Tartaro is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.