PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Penn State coach Pat Chambers says he doesn't pay attention to the Big Ten standings. With the conference tournament starting next week in Chicago and his team peaking, maybe it's time he should.
The Nittany Lions (13-17, 6-13 Big Ten) claimed their fourth win in their last five games, holding off Rutgers 66-65 before 8,000 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Lamar Stevens led the way for Penn State, 10th in the conference, with 18 points and Myreon Jones and Rasir Bolton added 13 and 11 points, respectively, off the bench.
Mike Watkins grabbed 14 rebounds for Penn State to become the 10th highest rebounder in school history with 715.
A 3-pointer by Josh Reaves gave Penn State a 66-60 advantage with 2:56 before the Nittany Lions went cold and Rutgers got hot, scoring the last five points of the game. Reaves blocked two shots in the final 45 seconds.
"It wasn't pretty, but Josh Reaves made some big plays, all game actually," said Chambers. "But those blocks were huge at the right time. They were timely and we needed them."
A second-chance layup from Myles Johnson with 1:35 to play brought Rutgers to within 66-65. Rutgers had several chances down the stretch to win it, but missed four shots in the last 45 seconds. Penn State failed to score in the final 2:58 of the game.
"You know what's crazy, I don't look at the Big Ten standings," Chambers said. "I try to steer clear of that stuff because then you start thinking, if we win here or do this, and now you're not focused on just getting your team better.
"We're just focused on us. It (Big Ten) is top-to-bottom ridiculous. It is the hardest it's been. I've been in this league eight years, without question the hardest I've seen it.
"We've been in every game except maybe two, Michigan State and Wisconsin at home. I feel like that was last year. Every game is a battle, and down to a one-possession game."
Eugene Omoyuri led Rutgers (14-15, 7-12) with 23 points. The Scarlet Knights had won two straight, including an 86-72 win at then No. 22 Iowa, but shot just 38 percent from the floor against Penn State.
This was the fifth sellout at home this season for Rutgers.
Penn State never trailed after falling behind 2-0. It led by as many as 20 points early in the second half.
The Scarlet Knights used a 7-0 run over 1:34 to slice a 12-point Penn State lead to 60-55 with 5:24 remaining.
With primarily an underclass squad, Rutgers has won the most conference games (seven) since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
"The growth of the team this year is exciting," said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiel. "We have gotten better and better. You see different people. Eugene (Omoyuri) was outstanding today. He muscled through a leg injury. You know, different guys. Ron Harper second half stepped up. (Caleb) McConnell. The guys are getting better. They are playing with good confidence."
Rutgers lost a great opportunity to move up from ninth place in the Big Ten standings and possibly receive an NIT bid, but committed 11 turnovers which Penn State turned into 17 points.
Penn State is picking up momentum heading into next week's Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. The Nittany Lions have won four of their last five
Penn State plays host to Illinois on Sunday
Rutgers travels to Indiana on Sunday
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