Dread, Wheeler Crucial from Distance as Winning Streak Hits Eight
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With under five minutes to play and two seconds left on the shot clock, sophomore Myles Dread hoisted a deep three as No. 13 Penn State (20-5, 10-4) clung to a seven-point lead with the chance to make program history hanging in the balance.
Hitting nothing but net, Dread ended the bleeding of a 10-1 run by Northwestern (6-18, 1-13) to give the Nittany Lions a double-digit lead en route to a 77-61 victory on Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The win gave head coach Patrick Chambers his most conference wins in nine seasons with Penn State, as well as made this team the fastest to 20 wins in a season in program history. To reach such milestones, the team fired away from deep and turned to a player going through an up-and-down season.
“Nobody wants to be pulled out of the starting lineup, so I give him a ton of credit for what he’s doing,” Chambers said about Dread, who after a six-game hiatus from the starting five has now started in three straight games. “He didn’t sulk, he didn’t complain and now we’re seeing the fruits of that labor.”
Dread finished the game with a season-high 16 points on 6 of 13 shooting and 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. Junior Jamari Wheeler, who entered the season with only ten made 3-pointers in his career, had a career high three threes on the way to a season-high 11 points.
“He’s a terrific defensive player and he’s gotten better as a shooter,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said about one of the conference’s best perimeter defenders in Wheeler. “He used to be a guy you could test from three-point range. Today, he goes 3 of 4 and makes big shots when (Penn State) needed them.”
As offensive options such as Dread and sophomore Myreon Jones (who missed his second straight game due to illness) have eased the burden of senior Lamar Stevens, shots have become easier to come by for Wheeler as well. With more open looks, Wheeler’s confidence has soared.
“I just take what the defense gives me, and it shows that hard work pays off,” Wheeler said.
Due to a noticeable physical advantage favoring Penn State, Collins and his staff elected for his players to play mostly a 1-3-1 zone defense. This strategy initially worked as the Wildcats took an 11-9 lead at the first media timeout. From that point on, however, it was all Nittany Lions.
As Penn State launched a whopping 31 three-pointers against Northwestern’s junk defense, the Nittany Lions converted 11 of them to build up a double-digit lead from the seven-minute mark in the first half.
Once it became clear that the Nittany Lions would convert at an effective rate from distance, Collins’ Wildcats unclogged the lanes to allow Penn State to drive. Consequently, the ever-consistent Stevens took advantage and recorded 13 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
“Anytime you’re playing a really good team, there’s decisions you have to make when game planning,” Collins said. “The reality is there are very few guys at the college level that can guard Stevens one-on-one.”
With the winning streak hitting eight games and milestones being surpassed, many are pegging this team as one of the greatest in school history. For as much as shattering records matters, Chambers and his team have their eyes towards greater goals.
“We’ve got to sacrifice right now,” Chambers said about his team’s determination. “You can celebrate after the season, but right now we’re trying to do something special and do something that Penn State hasn’t seen before.”
Andrew Destin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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