Myles Dread kept Penn State’s long-shot hopes of a Big Ten regular season championship alive with a long shot.
Dread’s 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds left Wednesday night enabled the No. 16 Nittany Lions to rally for a 65-64 home win over Rutgers after blowing a 17-point lead. At 21-7 overall and 11-6 in the conference, Penn State is two games behind first-place Maryland with three games remaining.
The first of those games is Saturday at No. 18 Iowa, which can do no better than tie for the regular season title but would still like to build momentum for the postseason.
Tied with Michigan State for second in the conference entering Thursday’s action, the Nittany Lions are in the rare position of playing for their NCAA Tournament seed. A season sweep of the Hawkeyes (19-9, 10-7) would do nothing but enhance their chances for a top 4 seed in a regional that might keep them close to home for the first two rounds.
Before the postseason, though, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers would like his team to develop a killer instinct. It has had trouble putting teams away on occasion, and that flared up in a major way against Rutgers.
Chambers warned his team at halftime that the Scarlet Knights would make a run.
“We were in a storm, man, were we in a storm in that second half,” he said. “I told the guys, ‘You know Rutgers, I know Rutgers, they’re not going away. This is what they do, this is how they play.’ Unfortunately, it came to fruition, but there’s a lot of lessons to be learned here, and we’ll watch the film and get better.”
The status of the Nittany Lions’ second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Myreon Jones, isn’t known for Saturday. Jones has missed six straight games with an undisclosed illness, and his 14.1 points per game have been missed lately. Penn State is averaging only 60.3 ppg over the last three contests.
And it will need to score some points when it ventures into Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Entering Thursday, Iowa was tied for the nation’s 25th-best scoring offense at 78.2 ppg, hitting a solid 45.3 percent from the field and nearly 74 percent at the foul line.
It’s also doubtful the Hawkeyes will struggle from the field at home as they did Tuesday night in a 78-70 setback at No. 24 Michigan State. They canned just 40 percent from the floor and only made 22.2 percent from the 3-point line.
Despite that cold shooting, Iowa had a real chance to win at Breslin Center, leading 49-41 when Connor McCaffery drilled a 3-pointer. It still owned a 60-56 advantage with 6:57 remaining when the Spartans pulled away with a 16-6 run.
Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said some late turnovers spelled the difference.
“We had some open looks at 3 that didn’t go and got some second looks, which was great, but we had some uncharacteristic turnovers. You can’t come down the stretch and turn it over, not here.”
Penn State earned an 89-86 win over Iowa on Jan. 4 at the Palestra in Philadelphia, offsetting a 34-point, 12-rebound outing from national Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza. The 6-foot-11 junior center is averaging 23.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
–Field Level Media