Penn State forward Donovon Jack, a driving force in the upset victory, drives to the basket Wednesday night against Iowa at Bryce Jordan Center.
By Audrey Snyder / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said this season was going to be a roller coaster ride for his Nittany Lions, and he wasn’t lying.
Wednesday night, the Lions delivered with their top performance of the season, exiting Bryce Jordan Center with fans on the court, celebrating their second victory against a ranked opponent in the past two weeks, this time downing No. 4 Iowa, 79-75. Penn State players high-fived fans who waved No. 1 foam fingers as Shep Garner, Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor maneuvered their way through the court, sharing a hug on a night the Lions (13-13, 4-9) dug themselves out of an early hole and stormed back.
“We’re going to keep playing the same way we played against Iowa and Indiana,” Taylor said. “Just playing defense, playing Penn State basketball and not focusing on missed shots or mistakes and just going out there and playing for each other.”
Penn State began the game with an uphill climb, trailing by eight points before finding its footing and accelerating through a first half in which it rallied to take a seven-point lead into the half, capped with the crowd on their feet after a dunk from Jack. Despite the slow start, Penn State looked like a different team than the one Iowa (20-6, 11-3) dismantled, 73-49, Feb. 3.
After the Lions went 1 of 20 from beyond the arc in that game, they made 7 of 14 3s in the first half Wednesday, led by Garner, who made 4 of 5 and finished 4 of 7. The Lions opened the second half with two 3s from Taylor and finished 10 of 28 from beyond the arc.
Chambers said Garner needed to shoot himself out of his struggles and will be better because of games like the one he had Wednesday night. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery shook his head after the game, adding “funny how that happens” when asked about the Lions’ long-range success.
It helped that Jack pulled through with a career-high 19 points, including a three-point play with eight minutes left in the game when the ball somehow found its way into the basket, even leaving Jack surprised. He added five rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes of play.
“Donovon wants to be a great player and he wants to see this program succeed,” Chambers said. “We had a lengthy meeting a couple days ago about what I expect from him moving forward and he played with incredible confidence and poise and composure.”
Taylor added 18 points and has been a leader since the Lions’ loss Saturday to Nebraska, Chambers said. He credited Taylor for powering the Lions through their workouts this week that were designed to be tougher than usual after their 70-54 loss to the Cornhuskers.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Washington grew up, too, hitting all six of his free-throw attempts down the stretch and helping the Lions make 17 of 22 overall.
But like every roller coaster as it speeds up and slows down, even Chambers isn’t sure what his team, with many young players in key positions, will accomplish with five games left in conference play.
“Is he going to do the same thing on Saturday? I don’t know,” Chambers said of Washington, who thanked his coach for keeping him in late in the game. “I’ll go back to the roller-coaster line. We’re going to be on a roller coaster.”
Audrey Snyder: email@example.com and Twitter @audsnyder4.
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