It was by no means a sexy match-up to the casual viewer. Iowa and Penn State is not what many would refer to as a marquee contest. However, this game turned into a heck of a back and forth between a few unheralded Big Ten teams. None the less, the Nittany Lions pushed their record to a pleasant 7-2 while Hawkeyes fell to .500 at 4-4.
While Penn State commanded the game on the scoreboard most of the evening, they were pushed by Iowa. Several second half Hawkeye runs tested the visiting team in hostile territory. Eventually, the Nittany Lions held on, not relinquishing their lead the entire second half.
For Iowa, this has to be a bitter loss heading into difficult non-conference games against Iowa State and Colorado. A conference opening loss is certainly not the end of the world, but it is certainly not promising for an already struggling Hawkeyes team. On the other hand, Penn State continues to solidify themselves as a legitimate Big Ten threat.
Let’s look at a few bullet points for this early evening’s game:
What We Learned
1. Lamar Stevens is becoming a great complimentary piece
Tony Carr has gotten most of the attention over the course of the last two seasons, and perhaps rightfully so. However, so far this season, it is Stevens that has proven to be the most steady of the two sophomores.
In tonight’s contest, Stevens poured in a team high 22 points coupled with five rebounds. On top of that, he shot an efficient 47 percent from the field, including a perfect six of six from the charity stripe.
I am most certainly not saying that Tony Carr is losing any sort of grip on the “best Nittany Lion” award, but Stevens is gaining ground. Carr put in another great night with 19 points, nine assists, and six rebounds, so his stock is certainly not falling. Most of all, what should be exciting for Penn State fans is Stevens’ progression into a solid sidekick to Carr.
2. Tyler Cook has been a bright spot for Iowa
Before I lunge into my point about Cook, let’s all have a moment of silence for the entire Penn State campus:
Put him on a poster!@iamtc5 soars for the And-1 @IowaHoops dunk. pic.twitter.com/TutQqWRaVl— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) December 2, 2017
That is frightening. We all know that Cook is a more than capable athlete, but this is just beyond what we have seen in the past. My spine is literally tingling just watching this video for the 30th time...
Anyway, Cook has been a nice spot on an otherwise relatively bleak Iowa team. Coming into the game he was averaging 14 points per game alongside 6 rebounds. On Saturday night he continued his strong start. Cook scored a game high 23 points and 12 rebounds, his first double-double of the season.
Through eight games, the sophomore has scored in double figures in seven games. He has been the most valuable Hawkeye so far and he will be a key to keeping the team relevant once Big Ten play is in full swing.
3. The Nittany Lions will be a thorn in the Big Ten’s side
Currently 33rd in KenPom, this Nittany Lions team is climbing. They have only suffered two losses, both to worthy opponents. The rest of their non-conference plays into their favor and there is reason to believe that they will come in to the full Big Ten slate with a record of 13-2. Their only tough game remaining until full conference play is Monday against Wisconsin.
They currently sport four players averaging with over 10 points a game with two averaging over 14 points a game. Not to mention, they are shooting 47 percent as a team from the field and roughly 35 percent from deep.
Keep your eyes on this Nittany Lions squad, they are sure to make some noise in the conference this year.
Penn State moves forward with a home game against Wisconsin on Monday. The Badgers were just completely dismantled versus Ohio State tonight, so they could still be reeling by then. Next up for Iowa is a road game in Bloomington against the Hoosiers.
The primary thing to take away from tonight is that Penn State is for real. In a conference that is relatively “down” this season, the Nittany Lions could be a pleasant surprise. Do not be shocked if you see them upend a few Big Ten giants at some point this season.