Stevens Shines in Penn State Comeback Win over Alabama
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Lamar Stevens led the Nittany Lions to a 73-71 comeback victory over Alabama at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday.
After a shaky start for the Nittany Lions (9-2, 1-1 Big Ten), which trailed 40-34 at half, the team locked in on defense to secure a victory and end the toughest part of its non-conference schedule.
“[Penn State doesn’t] have a poor defender that they put on the floor,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “Sometimes if someone is switching everything, you can go attack a poor defender… So when they’re switching everything, and every last guy on the floor can do a pretty good job on defense, it makes it pretty tough.”
Senior Lamar Stevens was not immune to the first-half struggle, but he turned it on the second half and was pivotal in 7-0 run in which he forced a jump ball, converted an and-one and made a jump shot.
“I remember the Georgetown game,” Stevens said about getting out of his slump. “I was upset because I was playing horrible, and coach [Jim] Ferry telling me ‘It’s OK, you’re not going to suck all game.’ And that kind of stuck with me.”
Stevens finished the game leading the team in points (18), rebounds (11) and assists (six). He also rejected five shots.
“I just want to impact the game in any way possible,” Stevens said. “Whenever I see an opportunity, I want to do whatever it takes to be beneficial for my team… if I have to protect the paint or have to guard somebody or score the ball or make a play.”
The other veteran leader on the team, Mike Watkins, was pivotal in preserving the Penn State lead with two game-saving stops at the rim in the waning seconds of the game.
The Nittany Lions’ first-half deficit would have been larger than six if it wasn’t for some timely shooting from sophomore guard Myreon Jones, who put up 12 in the first half alone.
The Nittany Lions coughed the ball up eight times in their sloppy first half, and their shooting was also abysmal: just 32% from the field.
In the second half, another Jones kept the Nittany Lions afloat while the team was trying to find its rhythm. Senior Curtis Jones Jr. scored 18 points efficiently in 21 minutes.
“He’s our Vinnie Johnson. For the younger group, he’s our Jamal Crawford,” Penn State head coach Pat Chambers said. “He’s a guy that I know can put the ball in the basket, and that’s what he’s been asked to do his entire life.”
After Stevens converted an and-one to give the Nittany Lions the lead with 5:40 remaining, the Crimson Tide (4-5) continued to fight.
Alabama had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds when junior Alex Reese was driving with the ball on the baseline, but a strong defensive effort from Stevens forced Reese into an incredibly awkward shot that landed behind the backboard.
“I wanted to make sure I made him uncomfortable,” Stevens said. “I wanted to make him drive because I didn’t think he could get past me, and I don’t know what he did, but he did that.”
“The fact that your best player wants to play defense at all is fantastic,” Chambers said. “Lamar can cover guards, and that’s why he’s going to play on that next level. He can guard anyone from one through five. That’s a special talent.”
Penn State will be out of action for a while for exams but will continue its homestand on Friday, Dec. 20 when the Nittany Lions take on Central Connecticut State.
Jerome Taylor is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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