Roll Lions

Roll Lions

A year ago, that game against ‘Bama would have been a loss, no questions asked. Instead, the home team rose to the occasion and squeezed out a W. That makes 10 hard-fought wins now out of twelve to open the season and if this past Saturday’s 73-71 victory over Alabama was not living proof of 'the climb,’ I don’t know what is. For their efforts, Pat Chambers and his squad were rewarded with a seat in the Top 25 on Monday afternoon, proudly boasting a No. 23 ranking. With a little irony thrown in, it’s been 23 years since Penn State men’s basketball last appeared in the AP poll. That’s 1996, just to put the significance in perspective. In other words, far too long, but we’re here now and the climb is officially on!

There’s no one besides Chambers that deserved this national respect more than Lamar Stevens, the Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, and big man Mike Watkins. Both chose to return for their senior seasons after dipping their toes in NBA water. Against the Crimson Tide, Stevens put up a stat line that validates his All-American potential by scoring 18 points (13 in the second half) 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 blocks. Watkins added 11 rebounds and 7-points total but stats do not always tell the whole story. Especially in his case, as Big Mike’s intimidating presence in the paint was more than enough to take total control down the stretch over the final three minutes.


Curtis Jones came off the bench with fresh legs to pour in 18 and effectively kept the Nittany Lions within striking distance in the first half as the Tide got off to a red hot start with a fast pace and draining threes. Myreon Jones added 17 points and Myles Dread had nine, but it was our stifling defense that kept us in it and eventually turned the Tide by the time the final buzzer sounded. With a chance to tie or take the lead on the final possession, Alabama couldn’t even get off a shot as Stevens interrupted a drive to the basket and the ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds to end the game.

There was no need to storm the court after this one, but given our history over the past few years, a win like this was more important than toppling Maryland a week ago. There have been big upsets scattered around throughout the Chambers era but come-from-behind nail biters like the one versus Alabama are few and far in between. More times than not, they’d leave us scratching our heads. This year though, Stevens and Co. have proven they’ve finally figured out how to close out the tough ones and now they’ve got a seat amongst the big boys as an early-season reward. Up next, a couple of tune-ups at home against Central Connecticut State (Dec. 20th) and Cornell (Dec.29th) to close out the year, and a chance to savor the newfound spotlight over the holidays before jumping back into conference play.