Penn State Basketball

Moore playing with confidence for Nittany Lions during Big Ten play

Two plays separated by 44 seconds sparked the early stages of Penn State’s comeback win in its last game and highlighted Julian Moore’s growth in confidence.

When Josh Reaves flipped a right-handed layup off the glass, Moore was there for a two-handed, putback dunk. When Minnesota pushed its lead back to 11, Moore threw down another jam.

Reaves came off a screen from Moore, forcing Golden Gophers big man Reggie Lynch to commit to defending the guard at the elbow. Reaves left off a pass for Moore, who caught the ball and immediately took off for a right-handed dunk, unbothered by Minnesota guard Nate Mason’s presence in the paint.

“Maybe a month ago, he might have caught, dribbled,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said Monday at the team’s media availability. “Now he’s starting to catch, finish. I see a different kid, shoulders back, a very confident young man who knows what he’s doing.”

Chambers called Moore’s dunks “big plays” in Saturday’s win over Minnesota. One possession after his second slam, the Nittany Lions pulled within six points, setting the stage for a tight final 16 minutes in their 52-50 victory. Moore finished with four points, three rebounds and one block in 16 minutes. Moore has played double-digit minutes in four straight games, helping the Nittany Lions go 3-1 during that stretch.

Penn State (11-7, 3-2 Big Ten) will look to win its third straight game when it hosts Indiana (12-6, 2-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Moore has pushed fellow big man Mike Watkins at practice, helping him in drills and during film sessions.

“Those two working in combination or collaborating together makes a good big man for us, especially with (Hoosiers big man) Thomas Bryant coming in on Wednesday,” Chambers said.

Moore has made the most of his opportunities after playing nine minutes in the Big Ten opener against Northwestern.

“After that Northwestern game, coach took me up in his office and he told me, ‘We need you to defend and rebound and that’s what’s going to keep you on the floor and that’s what’s going to help us win games,’” Moore said.

Chambers said Moore has bought into that mindset.

The 6-foot-10 forward provided quality minutes while playing with foul trouble in the team’s win over Michigan State. And he was a factor in the win over Minnesota.

“I think when we have Julian in the games that he’s been playing, we’re a hundred times better,” Penn State forward Payton Banks said.

Moore and Watkins will battle Bryant on Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-10 center is averaging 11.6 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. Watkins is averaging 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds, while Moore is averaging 2.7 points and 3.1 rebounds.

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery