WASHINGTON, D.C. — After the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, No. 5-seeded MSU officially knows who to game plan for in the Spartans' first game of the postseason.
- WHO: Penn State (15-17, 6-12 Big Ten, 1-0 postseason) vs. MSU (18-13, 9-8 Big Ten, 0-0 postseason)
- WHEN: 2:30 p.m., or 25 minutes after the conclusion of No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Illinois.
- WHERE: Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
- FOLLOW ALONG: Twitter: @thesnews_sports, Audio: Spartan Sports Network, TV: BTN
The No. 12-seeded Nittany Lions defeated No. 13 Nebraska Wednesday, 76-67 in overtime and advance to the second round to face MSU.
After upsetting Wisconsin at the Breslin Center on senior day, the Spartans ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak with a 73-70 loss to Illinois and a 63-60 loss to Maryland. Penn State, on the other hand, will enter the game the loser of its last five games in the regular season.
“We had confidence in our guys," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said after the win over Nebraska. "They had confidence in themselves. For the first time, we responded. Missing shots didn’t dictate our effort.”
Last time out against Penn State on Jan. 7, MSU fell at the Palestra, 72-63. The Spartans were outshot by the Nittany Lions from the field 41.1 percent to 46.4 percent, as Penn State scored 16 points on 17 Spartan turnovers.
Freshman forward Nick Ward stepped up with 16 points as freshman forward Miles Bridges — in his second game back with MSU after missing seven games with an ankle injury — was held to just four points and six rebounds.
Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens scored a game-high 18 points against the Spartans and was accompanied by guard Tony Carr, who chipped in 14 points. Against the Cornhuskers on Tuesday Stevens and Carr, along with Mike Watkins and Shep Garner, combined for 61 of Penn State's 67 points, with Garner totaling for four of the team's seven shots from 3-point range.
Watkins was key for Penn State's win on Tuesday, with a game-high 18 points along with a game-high 11 rebounds for a double-double and eight blocks.
Watkins will likely be paired with either Bridges or Ward in the post for Thursday's matchup.
“It was critical," Chambers said. "It was all about defending and rebounding, protecting the rim. He did it all today.”
MSU will come into the rematch against Penn State a much different team than the Nittany Lions played about two months ago. Senior guard Alvin Ellis III is in as MSU's starting wing in the absence of fifth-year senior Eron Harris. Harris sustained a season-ending knee injury after awkwardly buckling his right knee coming down with a rebound against Purdue on Feb. 18.
Despite a more vocal contribution from Bridges and Ward, averaging 16.6 and 13.6 points a game respectively, MSU is 7-7 since facing Penn State earlier this season.
Just as it's been all season, limiting the turnovers could be the x-factor in the contest. Penn State, however, will have to deal with a quick turnaround on short rest.
"They're a really good team, with a great coach, Tom Izzo," Stevens said. "We haven't focused on them yet, haven't talked about them yet. We're happy to get this win. But we're going to prepare. I think we're going to be ready by tomorrow."