STATE COLLEGE – Penn State coach Patrick Chambers kept saying all winter that his team was close to winning a Big Ten game even as the league losses piled up.
Momentum finally bounced the Nittany Lions’ way Wednesday night against one of their toughest foes of the season.
Jermaine Marshall scored 25 points and hit a key layup with 1:06 left to help Penn State roar back from a 15-point deficit and upset No. 4 Michigan 84-78 for its first Big Ten victory in more than a year.
No wonder fans rushed the court in delight after the final buzzer.
“I was looking around. I wanted to see our team,” Chambers said about the frenzy inside the Jordan Center. “I wanted to embrace it and be in that moment, because those moments don’t come very often.”
Penn State (1-14, 9-18) had lost 18 straight regular-season Big Ten games dating to last season. The team’s previous conference win came on Feb. 16, 2012, a 69-64 victory over Iowa.
It was Penn State’s first win over a top 5 team since defeating No. 5 North Carolina 82-74 in the second round of the 2001 NCAA tournament, and the highest-ranked opponent that the Nittany Lions have beaten since moving to the Jordan Center in 1996.
Even Michigan coach John Beilein was impressed.
“I think what you saw tonight is why we all love college basketball,” he said.
But this loss might hurt Michigan as it jockeys for seeding in the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines squandered a chance to pull into a second-place tie in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 19 points for the Wolverines (10-5, 23-5). Trey Burke had 18 points and six assists, but also committed six turnovers.
Michigan was uncharacteristically sloppy with 15 turnovers in the game, six more than its season average.
Penn State pounced on the mistakes.
D.J. Newbill added 17 points for the Nittany Lions, who hit a season-high 10 3-pointers. Marshall scored 19 in the second half, including four 3s that whipped the hometown fans into a frenzy. But it was his twisting drive to the bucket late left that really hurt Michigan.
The ball teetered on the rim for a couple of seconds before dropping in, causing the Penn State partisans to let out a collective sigh of relief with their team up 81-78.
“It was a chip play that we run. … Coach put the ball in my hand, and he had trust in me,” Marshall said. “Fortunately, that layup rode around the rim and went down.”
That was not the kind of luck that the Nittany Lions have been used to, ever since leading scorer and point guard Tim Frazier went down with a left Achilles injury four games into the season.
They had to adjust on the fly, with combo guard Newbill sliding over to the point, and Marshall needing to assume more ball-handling duties. Chambers, a never-say-die cheerleader, convinced his team to keep fighting through the adversity.
“Tonight, it’s a relief. All the hard work, practices and shootarounds paid off for us,” Newbill said.
Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III misfired on a 3 with 17 seconds left. Sasa Borovnjak (nine points) had a memorable Senior Night, hitting two foul shots with 15 seconds left to seal the win.
Ross Travis provided the muscle up front with 15 points and 12 boards as Penn State made the clutch plays down the stretch.
“They beat us fair and square, and the last 10 minutes they really outplayed us,” Beilein said.
Two foul shots by Marshall gave Penn State its first lead since the first half, 76-74, with 3:55 left. The Jordan Center rocked as if it were a Michigan-Penn State football game across the street at Beaver Stadium.
It was all Penn State from there.
Chambers watched as Michigan fumbled away opportunities, like when Burke had a steal from Newbill but lost control.
“The ball finally bounced our way,” Chambers said. “Trey Burke strips D.J. at halfcourt and kicks it out of bounds … that’s usually what we do.”
Midway through the second half, Michigan controlled the lane with dunks and cuts to the bucket. Long-range shooting gave the Wolverines breathing room after Nik Stauskus (12 points, eight rebounds) and Hardaway hit 3s on back-to-back possessions to help build the short-lived 15-point lead after Penn State had drawn within 49-45.
The first half was a sign of things to come. After struggling from long range much of the year, Penn State went 5 of 10 from behind the arc and forced 10 turnovers to stay within 39-36 at halftime.
All five of Michigan’s losses have come on the road in the Big Ten – none worse than Wednesday night’s defeat. Michigan finished February with a 3-4 record, heading into a showdown Sunday with No. 9 Michigan State.