Again minus Reaves, Penn State’s late save vs Nebraska might just have prolonged inevitable
Tony Carr (10) celebrates his game-winning shot with :02.7 left in overtime along with Lamar Stevens (11) and Mike Watkins (24) that beat Nebraska 76-74 on Friday night at the Jordan Center.
It’s felt like the end of the Patrick Chambers era has been near for about a calendar year. And on Friday night, the actual tipping point seemed at hand.
Not only had his Penn State basketball team blown a 16-point second-half lead, it was in grave danger of losing at home to depleted Nebraska, which was missing its best big man. Further, the Nittany Lions were, for the second straight game, without perhaps their most important player due to an academic suspension. And there’s no indication that man, junior winger Josh Reaves, will be back this season.
All that was momentarily forgotten when State (13-6, 3-3 Big Ten) managed to pull out an unlikely win. First, it fought off an ill-advised 3-point attempt by the Cornhuskers’ Glynn Watson at the end of regulation. Then, after falling behind for the first time in 30 game minutes in overtime, they rallied behind three tough shots by sophomore point guard Tony Carr, the last with :02.7 showing, to win 76-74.
It was a needless stress point for Penn State after it had built a 47-31 lead with just over 16 minutes left against a Nebraska team (12-7, 3-3) that apparently has lost its 6-11, 270-pound starting center Jordy Tshimanga. He’s reportedly looking to transfer out and coach Tim Miles, after assessing the situation, simply left him back in Lincoln.
Bereft of interior muscle, the Huskers were vulnerable. Chambers’ team smartly exploited them for much of the first 30 minutes by having Carr (17 points on indiscriminate 5-of-21 shooting) and Lamar Stevens (26 on a tidy 10-of-18) blast inside on twisting drives or feeding to their own aircraft carrier Mike Watkins (20 on 7-of-8 with 15 boards).
With 6:15 left, all seemed well enough, PSU still leading by a comfy 59-48. But Miles had by then set his Huskers in a junk defense that the Lions clearly had no clue how to solve. A trapping 1-3-1, which commonly calls for skip passes or some other form of quick ball reversal, or gap engagement to free up shots in its weak area along the length of the baseline, was met instead with mostly Carr and fellow guard Shep Garner noodling aimlessly along the perimeter.
With their best penetrating assist man Reaves in street clothes, Watkins unengaged and Garner never positioned in the corners where he could conceivably have found open threes, the Lions cratered for the duration of regulation and assumed fetal-position survival mode.
Penn State football coach James Franklin watches the game on Friday night at the Jordan Center.PSU/Craig Houtz
It very nearly cost them what would have certainly been a season-killing third home loss to another quite beatable visitor. However, the haphazard Cornhuskers complied.
After they stole the ball from Stevens to mine the last shot of regulation, Miles called timeout. Out of that time, Watson heaved up an inexplicable 24-foot three for the win that barely drew iron. It was that sort of game.
Isaiah Roby’s trey a minute into OT gave the Huskers a 3-point lead. And that’s when Carr began his 1-on-the-world act, totally devoid of any offensive structure. Nonetheless, he saved the day with 9 points in the extra period including a stand-still three to tie it at 68-68. The only other OT contributor for State was Nazeer Bostick, whose stick-back re-tied it at 70-70.
Carr’s final shot came after the Lions relinquished a tying trey by Anton Gill. He simply dribbled down, found a crevice among three pinching defenders in the zone left of the circle, and rose over everyone for an 18-footer that fell. Until his overtime spree, the sophomore point man was 2-for-17 from the field.
The resultant exhale and a tie for sixth place in the Big Ten seems like a temporary respite. Reaves, quite possibly the most intelligent and articulate member of the team, has somehow become academically ineligible relating to course work last semester, according to two independent sources close to the team.
Though Chambers and staff are hoping for some sort of positive resolution, none is guaranteed, by any means. Reaves, the team’s best defender and a glue guy on offense who sees teammates and plays with consistent energy, could be done for the season.
If Reaves is reinstated for Monday night’s hosting of reeling Minnesota at the Jordan Center or soon after, Chambers has a chance to drive this team to some sort of .500-level conference finish against a favorable schedule. Without him, something under that watermark appears much more likely. And whether that will be enough for PSU AD Sandy Barbour to sign off on an eighth season for Chambers is highly debatable.
Though two prime recruits due to enter next fall, Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton, are tearing it up in their senior high school years, there are rumblings that redshirt soph Watkins could opt to take off in the spring for professional basketball of some kind, no matter what the result of this season.
In sum, a lot must fall into place to keep this PSU season from falling apart and being Chambers’ last in State College.
DAVID JONES: firstname.lastname@example.org