Penn State overcame a poor shooting performance with its defense.
The Nittany Lions locked down Louisiana-Monroe in the final 11 minutes to erase a four-point deficit and hold off the Warhawks at the end. During that stretch, Louisiana-Monroe shot 23.8 percent and turned the ball over six times, including two shot-clock violations.
And Penn State made enough plays offensively to earn a 54-50 win Saturday at Rec Hall.
“I think we grew up a lot,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “We really buckled down on defense, got great stops when we needed to get stops although we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds again.
“I was really proud of the way we contested and competed. Sometimes with a young team and you miss shots, you’re not gonna play defense, you’re not gonna do anything. And they just gutted it out. I believe that’s a gutsy, gutsy win for us.”
But the Nittany Lions (7-3) kept playing defense despite shooting 32.7 percent from the field, going 3 for 20 (15 percent) from beyond the arc and giving up 18 offensive rebounds. Penn State center Jordan Dickerson had a career-high seven blocks and Josh Reaves had three blocks to contribute to the strong defensive effort. Nittany Lions guard Shep Garner was scoreless for the first 31 minutes, but he converted a pair of three-point plays at crucial moments in the second half.
Garner got on the board thanks to a defensive play.
The guard poked the ball free and came away with a steal that led to a breakaway layup that cut Louisiana-Monroe’s lead to 37-35. Reaves connected with Dickerson on an alley oop on the team’s next possession to tie the game and inject some life into the Rec Hall crowd.
Reaves slapped the floor as the Warhawks (4-4) brought the ball up the floor. Though the crowd went quiet after a jumper by Justin Roberson, it erupted again when Garner drove into the lane for a layup through a foul by Louisiana-Monroe’s Jamaal Samuel.
He knocked down the free throw to push the Nittany Lions ahead 42-40 with 5:25 left — a lead they would never relinquish. His second three-point play extended the lead to 48-42 with 2:17 remaining.
Garner finished with eight points after the quiet start.
“That just tells you again, that we’re gonna continue to play with a clear head and we’re gonna continue to fight ’til the horn goes off,” Chambers said. “And that’s what those guys did and that’s what Shep did.”
Less than three minutes before Garner’s first bucket, the Warhawks had matched their largest lead of the game, going ahead by six points with 11:29 to play.
Louisiana-Monroe held a small lead for much of the game, but never led by more than six.
And that lead disappeared against Penn State’s defense late.
A turnover against the Nittany Lions’ press started the Warhawks’ dismal final 11-minute stretch.
Still ahead 37-33, Roberson dribbled beyond the arc with the shot clock winding down. Time ran out before the team could fire a 3-pointer out of desperation.
The Warhawks trailed 45-42 when they committed another shot-clock violation as Nick Coppola’s layup attempt was too late.
Garner answered with the three-point play to make it a six-point game.
Penn State’s fueled the decisive run.
“When shots aren’t falling, what do you do?” said Brandon Taylor, who led Penn State with 16 points and seven rebounds. “You toughen up on defense and you do the little things, and that’s what we did today.”
And a defensive play provided the exclamation point to the victory.
Reaves blocked a 3-point attempt by Samuel, sending it into the student section with 6.5 seconds left.
“I just wanted to get there and contest the jump shot and I was fortunate enough to get a hand on it,” Reaves said. “My reaction was pretty much due to being in front of the crowd and just seeing how excited they were.”
Notes: Payton Banks added 10 points for Penn State. He’s scored in double figures in four straight games. … Dickerson’s seven blocks give him 106 in his career. … Penn State returns to action against Drexel at the Palestra in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Saturday.