No. 16 Michigan State braces for upstart No. 22 Penn State

NCAA Men's Basketball
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Penn State will go for its fifth consecutive victory when it travels to No. 16 Michigan State on Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich.

The No. 22-ranked Nittany Lions improved to 16-5 overall and 6-4 in the Big Ten Conference following a 76-64 win at Nebraska last Saturday. It was their first win at Nebraska since 1995.

Myles Dread led Penn State with 14 points, Myreon Jones and Lamar Stevens added 13 apiece and Mike Watkins picked up his 32nd career double-double with 11 points and 17 rebounds.

“For our team to be the best we can be, I have to keep pursuing rebounds,” Watkins said. “That’s something that I’m good at, and I’m going to try to keep that (momentum) going.”

This is only the third time in program history that the Nittany Lions have gone 6-4 through their first 10 conference games, along with the 1995-96 and 2008-09 teams.

Penn State has been at its best with offensive balance up and down its roster. That’s exactly what has transpired during this four-game winning streak.

Penn State went on a 30-11 run early in the second half to dismantle the Cornhuskers. During the spurt, numerous players were key components to sealing the win.

“I thought that (the second-half run) was a really balanced effort from the whole team,” Stevens said. “We got contributions from everybody and when everyone can contribute, that gives us a huge boost of confidence. It was a great team win.”

The Nittany Lions’ defense was terrific once again, and for the third straight game it held an opponent to below 40 percent shooting from the field.

Michigan State will enter this matchup with a 16-6 mark, including 8-3 in the Big Ten. It holds an impressive 10-1 record at home this season, with the Spartans’ only home loss against No. 7 Duke in early December.

In their previous game, the Spartans were nipped 64-63 at Wisconsin on Saturday.

Michigan State trailed by 16 points at halftime, made a furious comeback to climb within three before ultimately falling by one.

Cassius Winston led the way with 23 points, Rocket Watts added a career-best 16 and Xavier Tillman swept 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough as Tillman shot 3 of 15 for his seven points.

“That’s the shame of basketball,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “You know, that looks like why we lost the game. We lost the game in the first half because we guarded nobody. So then you give a team energy, a fan base energy. And for you, it’s depressing.”

Watts was able to give the Spartans a major lift as he started in place of Gabe Brown, who was ill. Watts dropped in four 3-pointers on 10 attempts.

“They were just getting open shots, and we can’t execute down the stretch,” Watts said. “I think we had like six times to take the lead, six possessions, and we didn’t. So we gotta do a better job of executing down the stretch and coming out at the beginning of the game hard.

“I feel like every away game, teams get hot and go up on. We gotta just figure out how we’re gonna come out aggressive.”

–Field Level Media

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