Penn State Routs Rutgers
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA--------- Mike Watkins scored 15 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds as Penn State beat Rutgers 60-43. Tony Carr led all scorers with 16 points.
Josh Reaves came off the bench for the Nittany Lions and scored 15 points, including a pair of highlight-reel dunks that got the crowd involved. Issa Thiam led Rutgers in scoring with 12 points.
Watkins’ presence on the court was on display when Geo Baker stole the ball from Carr and went in for a layup, only to be rejected by the big man. Reaves had four steals on the night with Penn State converting all but one of them into points.
Penn State improves its record to 15-8 on the season (5-5 in the Big Ten) and plays at sixth-ranked Michigan State. Rutgers drops to 12-11 (2-8) and faces Illinois on the road.
The THON Hoops game created an atmosphere that all the players and coaches were able to enjoy as over 13,000 people attended the game, setting a season high for attendance. The fans that packed into the Bryce Jordan Center helped a team that had just won a nail-biter over number 13 Ohio State just 48 hours earlier.
The fatigue factor was present for the Nittany Lions early in the game as they struggled to penetrate Rutgers’ defense, which led the conference in points allowed per game. Watkins especially struggled offensively as freshman big man Mamadou Doucoure was able to move his feet and forced him to shot 2-6 from the floor.
The second half was a completely different story as he scored 11 points on 4-6 shooting. Head coach Patrick Chambers explained how finding Watkins early in the half helped him offensively.
“He wants to help his teammates and sometimes he gets frustrated and a little emotional when he misses free throws,” Chambers said. “We can’t get that out of his head, so I knew we had to go to him early.”
His presence on the defensive side of the ball was felt as he had a game-high three blocks and altered several more around the rim. The defense as a whole for Penn State was stifling as Rutgers shot 31.4 percent from the field and forced 16 turnovers.
Reaves explained how the team unity was the main reason Rutgers struggled to score.
“We were just communicating, talking,” Reaves said. “Doing everything that we could just to help each other out.”
The defense led to 23 points, including a sequence in the second half where Reaves got a steal at half court and found Lamar Stevens for a powerful dunk. The transition opportunities for the Nittany Lions were small as the pace of the game was very slow, but they took advantage of their opportunities.
The best example of that was with 2:34 remaining in the game when Penn State broke the press and Nazeer Bostick flew from the baseline for an emphatic jam that got the whole crowd buzzing. The back to back victories by the Nittany Lions gave them a .500 record in conference play and momentum heading into a conference matchup against Michigan State.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.