Lamar Stevens hasn’t played in a Big Ten game yet, but he knows what to expect.
The Penn State freshman has heard his teammates talk about conference play being a grind. He knows he has to be ready to play against “top-tier” talent every night.
“It’s just a different beast,” Stevens said.
Stevens will get his first taste of conference action when Penn State (8-5) hosts Northwestern (11-2) in its Big Ten opener at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions finished nonconference play with back-to-back decisive wins over St. John’s and Morgan State, and the Wildcats are riding an eight-game winning streak.
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Northwestern’s two losses came to a pair of currently ranked teams. The Wildcats lost to No. 13 Butler (11-1) 70-68 on the road Nov. 16 and fell 70-66 to No. 24 Notre Dame (10-2) in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 22.
Northwestern boasts wins over Texas (6-5), Wake Forest (9-3), DePaul (7-6) and Dayton (9-3) and received five votes in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll released Monday.
“Northwestern’s a heck of a team and nobody’s really talking about them, which I’m really surprised about,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said after his team’s win over Morgan State last Wednesday. “They have some really quality wins on their schedule. I think they’re one of the better teams in our league this year.”
Penn State’s nonconference strength of schedule was ranked 36th in the country by ESPN, and Chambers said he’s seen his team grow since its season-opening loss to Albany.
After that loss, Chambers said his team let its offensive performance dictate its effort — the Nittany Lions didn’t play hard the entire night. They had the same problem in a 19-point loss to George Mason when Chambers said the Patriots simply outplayed his team.
But in Penn State’s final three games, Chambers saw more his team make “more toughness plays” — diving on the floor, taking charges, pursuing rebounds. The Nittany Lions also started to share the ball more on offense, resulting in consecutive 90-point performances as they cruised past St. John’s and Morgan State.
“I see our habits are getting a little bit better, I see our consistency is getting a little bit better, we’re defending and rebounding better,” Chambers said. “Our toughness got a little better and it can get better and it will get better.”
Chambers will find out Tuesday if the nonconference prepared the Nittany Lions for conference action.
His players are looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s kind of like we take another step on this journey,” freshman point guard Tony Carr said. “... I’m just looking forward to the competition, and hopefully winning some games.”
Notes: Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh are each averaging double figures scoring for the Wildcats. Lindsey is averaging 14.9 points per game, Law is averaging 13.7 points and McIntosh is averaging 12.2 points and 5.5 assists. ... Northwestern leads the Big Ten in blocks (90) and assist-turnover ratio (1.7). Gavin Skelly leads the Wildcats with 2.1 blocks per game. ... Northwestern’s starting center Dererk Pardon is considered doubtful to play Tuesday, according to a report by Jon Rothstein, of CBS Sports on Monday. Pardon needed surgery on his hand after suffering an injury Nov. 28 against Wake Forest.
Northwestern at Penn State
When: 3 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
Radio: WQWK 1450