Penn State opens Big Ten play against No. 24 Maryland
Big Ten Conference play tips off this weekend and two teams with high hopes hook up when Penn State travels south to meet 24th-ranked Maryland on Saturday at Xfinity Center in College Park, Md.
The Terrapins (6-1) are coming off their first loss of the season, a 76-71 setback on Wednesday to the buzz saw that is fourth-ranked Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was a big game for Maryland, but, according to coach Mark Turgeon, not even THE game this week.
"We fought," said Turgeon. "It's hard to come back on Virginia, and we were able to do it, a lot because our fans were terrific, and we had a lot of fight. I just hope we have the same (sellout) crowd on Saturday....Because that's the big game of the week. This game was huge, it would have been big, but the biggest game of the week for us is Penn State because it's a Big Ten game."
Penn State (4-2) got a big win in the ACC/Big Ten series, upsetting No. 13 Virginia Tech 63-62, behind freshman Myreon Jones' 18 points and a smothering defense that could be a game-changer for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State held Tech 20 points under its previous scoring average and claimed the Nittany Lions' first win over a ranked team at the Bryce Jordan Center since 1998. Part of the difference has been the return of 6-foot-9, 254-pound junior forward Mike Watkins, who played for the first time since last February because of a knee injury and off-the-court issues.
"I think we're getting closer to who we need to be now with Mike back," said PSU coach Jerry Chambers. "You could see his ability to protect the rim really helped us in the second half."
In his 21 minutes Watkins blocked two shots and added the interior oomph that had been missing from Penn State's defense. That factor is increasingly important, especially heading into a clash with Maryland and the Terrapins' 6-10 dual punch in the paint of sophomore Bruno Fernando and fabulous freshman Jalen Smith.
Fernando is averaging 15.9 points and 9.6 rebounds, and leads the Big Ten with his 77 percent shooting from the field. He dunks -- a lot. Smith chips in 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and is hitting 52.5 percent from the field. Junior point guard Anthony Cowan leads the Terps with 16.6 points and 4.6 assists, running the show for a team with five freshmen among its top eight players.
This game looms large because Maryland must travel to Purdue next Thursday for just the second road test this season. An 0-2 Big Ten start would be tough on a young team's psyche.
"We're all in," said Turgeon. "Our guys are all in. Our guys love each other and care about each other."
Penn State doesn't have any picnic coming up either. After traveling to Maryland, the Lions host Indiana Tuesday.
Penn State junior forward Lamar Stevens is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 23 points per game, but three other Lions are right around 10 points. Forget all that, though, at Linebacker U, even in basketball, it's all about hard-nosed defense.
"To be able to win, and it was a little bit ugly at times, which I don't mind ugly," said Chambers Tuesday after the victory over Virginia Tech. "I want to defend. I want to rebound. I want to dive. I want to take charges -- all that good stuff."
Penn State and Maryland split the two meetings last season, each team winning at home. The Nittany Lions ground out a 74-70 win in State College, Pa., in their last meeting, shooting 52 percent, winning the boards and forcing 14 turnovers. Stevens had 25 points.
Maryland won 75-69 in College Park, Cowan leading with 18 points and Fernando adding 17 and 11 rebounds. The Terrapins lead the all-time series 13-9, have won five of the last seven meetings and are 2-0 against Penn State in Xfinity Center.
Updated November 30, 2018