Season-defining wins over a top 10 nationally ranked conference foe in front of an electric home crowd isn’t a completely foreign concept for Penn State athletics — but it is an experience reserved almost exclusively for the gridiron, wrestling mat, and ice sheet.
On Thursday night, however, it was finally Pat Chambers turn to get his team in on some of that Penn State magic as 10,981 fans clad in white transformed the Bryce Jordan Center into a mini Beaver Stadium.
I was fortunate enough to be one of those fans in attendance and can attest that it was the loudest I’ve heard that building in nearly seven years (coincidentally in a game that also featured Ohio State but one with a much different result).
From before tipoff to when students, and at least one 30-year-old alumni, stormed the court, the energy that swept through the BJC coupled with the Lions play on the hardwood created what will long be remembered as one of the greatest nights in the history of Penn State basketball. And that’s not hyperbole.
For the Nittany Lion faithful that have followed this program over the years, Thursday’s game was 2-hours of tastefully-done basketball porn. The game definitely had an, eh, effect on me.
And as opposed to the Lions win over Ohio State three weeks ago, where Tony Carr’s banked-in 3-point game winner was the clear runaway for standout play of the game, this most recent victory over the Buckeye’s featured a rolodex of highlight reel plays.
With that in mind, and having had a chance to re-watch BTN’s coverage of the game, I did my best to boil things down to the top 10 Penn State plays from Thursday nights win.
No. 10- 5:35, Second Half: Lamar Stevens and Keita Bates-Diop fight for a rebound
Owning a 20 point lead with just under 6 minutes to go in the second half, it would have been easy for the Lions to take their feet off the gas a little. But that couldn’t have been further from the case here. Off a missed free throw, Stevens and Bates-Diop battled over a tipped rebound, jockeying for possession before Bates-Diop finally touched the ball while having his foot out of bounds.
This is the classic type of hustle play that won’t show up in the box score but is synonymous with the brand of basketball Pat Chambers loves to play.
No. 9a- 16:36, First Half: Mike Watkins first alley-oop and No. 9b- 9:10, Second Half: Mike Watkins second alley-oop
With emotions running high and a palpable buzz in the arena, Penn State opened the game a little jittery on the offensive end of the floor. But a Mike Watkins slam from a Tony Carr dime settled the team down and brought the Bryce Jordan Center to its feet. That slam set the tone for how the rest of the game would shake out, while giving Penn State its first lead that would not be surrender for the remainder of the contest.
Later in the second half, Josh Reaves floated a beautiful pass to Watkins as he cut towards the basketball to swing momentum back in the Nittany Lions favor.
This is just one of a half dozen or so highlight reel connections between Reaves and Watkins as the two have developed quite the chemistry over the course of this season.
No. 8- 17:49, Second Half: Tony Carr pushes the Lions lead to 30 with an and-1
No fan base has been better conditioned to fear a 24-point halftime lead than Penn State’s. So the Lions opening up the second half on a 6-0 run helped to subside even the most pessimistic of supporters worries.
After rebounding a missed Ohio State 3-pointer, Carr never gave the ball up, driving to the basketball at the other end of the court where he fought off some major contact to sink the bucket and head to the line.
And if that wasn’t enough, he hit the Penn State bench with some serious flex game. Rae Sremmurd would not approve.
No. 7- 2:15, First Half: Jamari Wheeler’s runout layup puts Penn State up 20
“Is this real life?”
“Am I dreaming?”
“What is happening!?”
These are all things I’m assuming fans were thinking as the Lions jumped out to its first 20-point lead of the game. In what’s becoming the signature play of the freshmen guard, Wheeler tipped the ball loose and then sprinted up court to complete the runout. While the finish on this particular play wasn’t flashy, the lead up and end result make this an important part of Penn State’s win.
No. 6- 8:08, First Half: Lamar Stevens almost ‘block’
Referee Teddy Valentine can rob Lamar Stevens of a statistical block with an absolutely atrocious call but he can’t take away the lifetime of joy I’ll get replaying it over and over again in my mind.
Seriously, haven’t we seen enough of ol’ Teddy effecting games in countlessly negative ways? There aren’t any better officials out there that can replace this guy?
That was a legit block. And it was amazeballs.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.
No. 5- 11:35, Second Half: Shep Garner three stops an Ohio State run
It’s a weird feeling when 10,000 people collectively all clinch their butt cheeks at the same time, but so was the case as the Buckeye’s put together a 13-1 run to cut the Lions once 30-point lead to only 18.
But with Flavor Flav in his corner, the senior guard straight outta Chester hit his defender with a little Shake’N Bake to create room for a fall away 3-pointer. This shot put the Lions back up by 21 and gave the Bryce Jordan Center a reason to wake up and rise to its feet.
With all the young guns making noise with Penn State basketball, Garner has far too often gotten lost in the shuffle. But man, has he been such an important part of this program. Having recently etched his name on the universities top 10 all-time scoring list, his mark has been left in State College.
He’s been a great ambassador for this team and within the community. It’s impossible not to root for this kid and I’m going to absolutely miss him next year when he’s gone.
No. 4- 18:27, Second Half: Josh Reaves breaks up an alley-opp attempt
There’s no words that can lend themselves to just how amazing of an athletic display this was. What’s even more impressive is people have gotten so used to Reaves making these types of plays during his Penn State career that you’re almost more surprised when he doesn’t come up with the tip in situations like this.
If Reaves didn’t have an NBA career ahead of him, and I’m in the corner that thinks he does, it would be amazing to see what he could do on a football field catching passes. Maybe THAT’s why James Franklin has been spending so much time around the hoops team. Hmmm.
No. 3- 15:51, First Half: Chris Holtmann gets T’d up
Is it petty to take so much joy in seeing the visiting coach get T’d up for complaining about calls? Sure. But does that make me enjoy it any less? Not a chance.
Penn State has a long history of horrendous calls going against them (see No. 6 on this list for a recent example) so watching another coach lose his damn mind when things suddenly start going our way feels a little like well earned retribution.
No. 2- 3:15, First Half: Julian feakin’ Moore
For a graduate senior coming off a serious knee injury, Julian Moore had little to no reason to return to the basketball court for his final year of eligibility, outside of potentially contributing to an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
After a rough start to the season, Moore has started to find his game again and shown why he’s been an important contributor during his Penn State career.
On Thursday, he decided to throw a block party and made sure to invite Kaleb Wesson twice in the matter of 6 seconds.
I honestly think this earned the loudest ovation of the night from the Bryce Jordan Center crowd, however, our friends over at Black Shoe Diaries summed up Moore’s blockfest in the most perfect way possible by quoting the immortal Dikembe Mutombo:
WHO WANTS TO SEX JULIAN MOORE?— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) February 16, 2018
No. 1- :02.9, First Half: Reaves to Carr for the touchdown
Thesaurus.com has officially run out of words for me to use when describing how much fun it is getting to watch Tony Carr play basketball at Penn State.
And no play, not even the bank in 3-pointer that’ll end up in the Penn State hoops Hall of Fame, exemplifies this more than the Lions last play of the first half.
On the list of things that could happen when you throw the ball down the entire length of the court, 99-percent of them are bad and/or uneventful. The remaining 1-percent is what happened on this play.
I still don’t know if it was more luck or talented that caused this to be successful. But what I do know is that this is when I started to recognize that this could end up being a special night in Happy Valley.
And boy, was it ever.