By Andre Monroe
Whew. That game did not want to end. Both teams fought in what proved to be one of the best wins this season for Penn State. They had every chance to fold against a team they were underdogs to at home.
The Nittany Lions started as well as you could ask for. Penn State had shot under 40% from the field in their last three games and made an immediate improvement in the first half. John Harrar went scoreless in Penn State’s previous game against Iowa and was sure to make his presence felt in this outing. Penn State went up 8-2 early with the hustle on both ends of the floor from Harrar. At the timeout, Harrar began kneeling under the basket, likely due to all the energy exerted in the first few minutes. The same could be said for the rest of Penn State’s starting five. The ball movement was the root of Penn State’s success early on. Dallion Johnson, making his first career start for the Lions, had a couple of impressive buckets in the painted area early on. Along with Seth Lundy, whose shooting struggles are seemingly beginning to fade.
Penn State’s success came from both ends, though. Penn State forced Iowa to make perimeter shots early, and it worked. Iowa started off shooting 1-10 from the field and was disturbed by Penn State’s defensive physicality. However, this approach appeared to be Penn State’s kryptonite later on in the half. Iowa went on a scoring run to lead Penn State 34-32 at halftime. Connor McCaffery, who hadn’t scored in double figures in almost a year, made a career-high four three-pointers and scored 12 in the first half to give Iowa the lead.
The second half provided more of a competitive battle between both teams. John Harrar and the Penn State Nittany Lions began the second half exactly how they started the first. Harrar’s physicality set the tone for the second half. From fighting for rebounds, protecting the paint, going strong to the basket, and more. Iowa’s offense picked up as they improved their field goal percentage from the first half, but Penn State did not let up. Jalen Pickett made tough shot after tough shot. Defenders in his face, shot clock expiring. It did not matter. Greg Lee, Western Michigan transfer, heated up in the second half and had his best game in a Penn State uniform.
However, Iowa didn’t let up either in what proved to be a tough battle. Connor McCaffery exited the game with three minutes left in the second half with an arm injury. McCaffery had been Iowa’s leading scorer until that point, and matters seemed bleak.
Many argue Keegan Murray is the best player on Iowa’s roster, and he made his case when McCaffery exited. He made several key plays, including a three with a defender in his face to cut Penn State’s lead to three with less than a minute left. Patrick McCaffery would make a pivotal layup to cut Penn State’s lead to one with 15 seconds on the clock.
After a few fouls, Sam Sessoms was at the line for Penn State with a 65-64 lead. Sessoms made the first but missed the second, giving Iowa the chance to win or tie with eight seconds left. Jordan Bohannon took the ball up the floor for Iowa and shot a contested three to win the game with only seconds left on the clock. It rimmed out, and the game was seemingly over until Keegan Murray made an acrobatic play to tip it in with under a second left to send it to overtime.
Overtime was just as fierce as regulation. There were a lot of bodies on the ground, a lot of physicalities, and a lot of free throws; emphasis on the free throws. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, Iowa scored higher in two critical categories. Free throws made as well three-pointers made. Penn State found themselves down 75-78 with 20 seconds left and possession of the ball. However, Myles Dread accepted the challenge and made a clutch three-point shot with ten seconds left to tie the game for Penn State. Kris Murray would miss the game-winner for Iowa, and the game would go to overtime for the second time.
Penn State’s defense revived itself in double overtime. They contested shots well, and this time without fouling as much. The game found itself close again late in the game. Iowa gained possession of the ball with 27 seconds left, down by two. With a chance to win the game, Keegan Murray missed a three-pointer. Iowa was forced to foul, and Penn State did the easy part; they made their free throws. After some late drama with seconds left, Penn State would secure the win to advance to 9-9 and 4-6 in Big Ten play.
As for what’s next, Penn State will travel to No. 11 Wisconsin to face the Badgers on February 5th. Iowa falls to 14-7 and will look to rebound against Ohio State on February 5th after losing a game they were favored in today.