With four wins in its last five games, Penn State is making a late bid to become an NCAA Tournament participant.
With a win Wednesday at Northwestern, Penn State (18-12, 9-10 Big Ten) took a major step toward that goal. The Nittany Lions could move forward again on Sunday when they host No. 21 Maryland (20-10, 11-8) in University Park, Pa.
This is rarefied air for Penn State. Its last NCAA tourney appearance came in 2011 and before that, in 2001.
Penn State has made its case lately with a quality win over Illinois, followed by victories on the road at Ohio State, Minnesota and Wednesday at Northwestern, 68-65, as Camren Wynter drilled a corner 3 with less than a second left in overtime to spoil senior night for the Wildcats.
Wynter has keyed the Nittany Lions’ surge hitting 13 of his last 17 3-point attempts (76.5 percent). Over the last four games, Wynter is averaging 18.5 points. Consistency has finally arrived for the starting guard who failed to score in four Big Ten games this season.
Wynter had 24 points on Wednesday, including another big 3 in overtime and one with 2:24 left in regulation. Afterward, he credited point guard Jalen Pickett (11 assists).
“It started with Pick drawing two (defenders) and just playing off him,” Wynter said.
The Nittany Lions’ three backcourt starters are fifth-year seniors. Though they had experience individually, they didn’t have it together. While Pickett was at Penn State last year, Andrew Funk played at Bucknell and Wynter was at Drexel.
“We can make adjustments on the fly,” PSU coach Michah Shrewsberry said. “That’s what experience can do. Experience doesn’t panic at the end of games.”
Maryland also has a veteran group with four seniors in the starting lineup but the Terps have shown little resilience on the road.
The most recent road loss came Tuesday at Ohio State, 73-62, promptly after Maryland had returned to the rankings for the first time since December.
Julian Reese (17 points, 12 rebounds) continued his ascent in his breakthrough season with his fourth straight double-double. But the rest of the Terps played passively as the Buckeyes won the battle of the boards 32-24.
Maryland coach Kevin Willard has grown frustrated with Maryland’s lack of fire away from home. In the Big Ten, the Terps are 10-0 at home and 1-8 on the road.
In a frosty press conference that lasted two minutes after the Ohio State loss, Willard set the tone when he was asked his impressions of the game.
“I don’t have any impressions,” he said.
Look no further than the Terps’ top three scorers to see the difference between playing conference games at home and the road. Jahmir Young’s averages are 20.7 (home) and 13.4 (road). Hakim Hart’s numbers are 13.5 (home) and 8.0 (road). And Donta Scott’s figures are 12.1 (home) and 8.6 (road).
Maryland hopes to avoid its familiar routine on Sunday. The Terps handled Penn State at home, 74-68, on Feb. 11 behind Hart (23 points) and Young (18 points).
Maryland has found Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center a house of horrors recently. The Nittany Lions have won five straight at home in the series, with three of those victories coming when the Terps were ranked.
–Field Level Media