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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Grind Past Michigan State For 75-70 Win

by on February 04, 2020 11:00 PM

Years ago Pat Chambers sat at a table deep in the Bryce Jordan Center and looked a handful of reporters in the eyes and said without an ounce of irony that he wanted to be like Michigan State.

The exact quote has long been lost down the tunnels of the Internet, buried under years of stories, but he said it. Penn State basketball is going to be like Michigan State.

And as he looked at those reporters it was hard for them to not quietly chuckle back. Of course, Penn State basketball, the butt of so many jokes and endlessly listed as one of the toughest jobs in America. That team? Of course everyone wants to be like Michigan State, everyone in football wants to be like Ohio State. That doesn't make it happen; that doesn't make it easy.

All these years later it's hard not to tip your cap to the 2019-20 iteration of Penn State basketball, especially after gutting out a heavyweight bout for a 75-70 victory over No. 16 Michigan State on Tuesday night in East Lansing.

No. 22 Penn State, now 17-5 overall and 7-4 in Big Ten play, has beaten Michigan State (16-7, 8-4) before. It happens, but so often it was the product of a perfect storm. It was Talor Battle scoring a career-high, or a foul-heavy night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Every team has their upsets, every good team has an off night.

But it was different Tuesday. This wasn't a fluke. It wasn't some wild ride as a random player caught fire also catching the Spartans by surprise. These were equals; this was a basketball game.

The number of storylines buried inside a 40 minutes like this are endless. Penn State withstood an early punch by Michigan State, trailing by nearly double figures in the early going. Then the Nittany Lions responded with a run of their own, leading by as many as 11 just outside of a minute to go in the first half.

There was Myreon Jones, Penn State's best shooter over the past several weeks and a fearless marksman from beyond the arc, firing in six-of-eight from range on a 20-point night.

There was the inevitable Michigan State run that erased Penn State's second half lead and tied the game at 51, the Spartans piloted by guard Cassius Winston, who smoothly worked his way to a 25-point outing despite a cold start to the night.

And defense, the pillar of the Nittany Lions success as Penn State scored 21 points off of Michigan State turnovers, was disruptive in the passing lanes, tenacious in coverages.

The counterpunches were there. Each late basket by Michigan State was answered by one of Penn State's own. Each time the Spartans looked poised to go on a run they were hit with a counter. Lamar Stevens was determined, 9-for-20 hardly his most efficient night, but each make coming exactly when it was needed the most. Mike Watkins was timely with his rebounds, two shy of a 10 and 10 outing as Penn State finished the night just two rebounds, an almost inconsequential margin, behind the Spartans.

As the game entered its final minutes it seemed like history was almost certainly going to take hold. This is the Breslin Center. Teams don't come here and win. The whistle goes the wrong way, the shots don't quite fall. Someone dressed in green was going to make a shot. Somebody was going to be the straw that broke Penn State's back. That's just how these things happen.

But this time, that's not how it happened.

Even as Winston rolled home a layup and was fouled with 11 seconds to go, he whiffed on the free throw attempt that would have tied it all back up. Instead it was Lamar Stevens at the free throw line four times, stepping up like seniors are supposed to, facing his own statistical demons and making all four shots.

In reality, Penn State basketball will have miles and years to go before it truly becomes a Michigan State. The point Chambers was making never was about dethroning Tom Izzo and his program. And, in a sense, it was never about achieving those heights either.

It was about rebounding, playing physical defense, making shots and getting contributions from the across the roster. It's a simple equation, but one that has made Michigan State one of the most consistent programs in America.

And sitting on a five-game winning streak, just a single game out of first place in the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament bid all but locked up in February, maybe it'll be Chambers laughing this time on the flight back home.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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