They’ll be plenty of dancing on the Bryce Jordan Center floor this weekend, as more than 700 Penn State students will take part in the annual THON event to help the fight against pediatric cancer.
But the student body had a chance to get in some early moves Wednesday night. With a THON countdown clock running in the corner of the arena, the Nittany Lion basketball team upset No. 4 Iowa, 79-75.
And it set off a celebration on the floor, complete with chanting, singing and — yes — dancing.
“We love our fans and we love that they rushed the court,” said PSU senior Brandon Taylor, who had 18 points and nine rebounds in the game. “That just shows they care about us the same way we care about them.”
The kids had reason to celebrate, as this was a far more stunning upset than the win over No. 22 Indiana at the BJC Feb. 6.
First, the Hawkeyes destroyed PSU in Iowa City Feb. 3, 73-49. Second, the Lions were coming off an embarrassing 70-54 loss at Nebraska Saturday, a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.
Coach Pat Chambers said the latter game was the impetus for Wednesday's big win.
“I don’t want to diminish anything Nebraska did,” Chambers said. “They played great in the second half, but that’s not Penn State basketball and (our) seniors knew it. We came back in on Sunday and we went after it. Those seniors went after it because they didn’t want to let it happen again.”
And it wasn’t just Taylor, who entered the game as State’s leading scorer and rebounder. On this night, fellow captain and senior Donovon Jack stepped up and played the game of his life.
He scored a career-high 19 points (on 8-of-9 shooting) to go along with five rebounds and two blocks — in only 22 minutes of play. Jack had reached double figures in scoring in just two of PSU’s previous 25 games and had not logged more than 20 minutes since early January.
“A couple of days ago, we had a lengthy meeting about what I expect from him moving forward,” Chambers said. “He played with incredible confidence, poise and composure. He was ready to make that big jump tonight.”
Jack was thankful things finally came together, and on such a big stage.
“It means a lot,” he said. “But I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. … It’s a big win for us. We just have to keep grinding and keep the momentum here for us.”
Penn State improved to 13-13 overall and 4-9 in the Big Ten with the win, and with a less-than-killer regular season schedule remaining has a chance to make a run at a winning record.
“After a win like this, the key is not getting too high,” Taylor said.
WASHINGTON STEPS UP
With senior backup guard Devin Foster in Ohio for the birth of his daughter, redshirt freshman Isaiah Washington saw his most extensive action of the season for the Lions. And he produced.
Sure, he only made 1 of 7 shots. But he was 6 of 6 from the free throw line, all of them in the second half. He had five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
He finished with career highs in points (nine) and minutes (26).
“It has been a slow process,” Chambers said of Washington’s development. “I didn’t want to put him out there too early for him to fail. I didn’t want him to lose his confidence. I was really proud of him when he started to drive the ball. He went 6 for 6 from the free throw line in critical situations. I think he grew up a little bit today. He’s maturing and starting to understand what Penn State basketball is all about.”
Penn State made 1 of 20 3-pointers in the earlier loss at Iowa. Wednesday was a different story, as the Lions went 10 of 28 from the arc. Shep Garner had four triples in the first half to break out of a slump.
Taylor was 3 of 5 on 3-pointers, while Payton Banks made 2 of 7.
“Yeah, it is funny how that happens,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the difference in PSU’s shooting between the two games. “Garner is a good shooter. Payton Banks, if he is taking the right shots, is going to make a good percentage. Isaiah Washington made one in the first half. They have many different players who are capable. Taylor is going to make some 3-pointers and that is what makes him hard to guard. He will stretch you to 24 feet, and then he might drive on you or may shoot it and try making a play.”
A FOUL MOOD
Penn State was called for 26 fouls in the game, as Iowa went to the line 35 times (making 25).
Even though they fouled like crazy in the final minute and a half to try to lengthen the game, the Hawkeyes were only whistled for 20 fouls, as the Lions went 17 of 22 from the line. Of those 22 shots, 12 were taken in the final 1:22.
McCaffery chalked it up to PSU playing very physical ball.
“They do that every game,” he said. “They are going to play like that way, they always do.”
Chambers did not complain about the officiating. But he said his team has learned to play with the hand it’s dealt.
“We can’t worry about that stuff,” he said. “It’s going to happen. We have to worry about what we can control. We can control our attitude and our effort and that is what we are going to stick with.”
BY THE NUMBERS
• There was only one lead change in the game, when PSU went ahead 26-25 with 5:07 to go in the first half. This even though the Lions never led by more than eight in the game.
• Only two Hawkeyes reached double figures in scoring. Star forward Jarrod Uthoff had 18 and guard Peter Jok had 28.
• Penn State made 10 of its final 12 free throws and went 77.3 percent from the line in the game. The Lions entered the game as 68.8 percent free-throw shooters.
Penn State is at struggling Rutgers Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip. The game can be seen on ESPNU