No. 21 Penn State beats No. 23 Iowa at packed Palestra

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

No. 21 Penn State beats No. 23 Iowa at packed Palestra

BOX SCORE

Izaiah Brockington scored 23 points to lead No. 21 Penn State to its fifth straight win, 89-86 over No. 23 Iowa on Saturday at the Palestra.

Luka Garza scored 34 points for the Hawkeyes (10-4, 1-2 Big Ten), but he missed three crucial free throws down the stretch that helped the Nittany Lions win in front of a raucous home crowd on Philly's most famous court. Garza, who scored 44 points last month at Michigan, scored 12 straight points in one stretch in the first half but missed two foul shots with 3:21 left in the game and Iowa clinging to a two-point lead.

Curtis Jones put Penn State in front with a 3-pointer that rocked the building. Garza went 1 of 2 from the line to even the score at 79-all, but Mike Watkins delivered for PSU with a go-ahead dunk. Penn State forced a turnover and Lamar Stevens sealed it with a late layup.

Stevens and Myreon Jones each scored 16 points for the Nittany Lions (12-2, 2-1).

Penn State coach Pat Chambers might finally have a team he can take to the NCAA Tournament in his ninth season.

Penn State might want to petition to play all its Big Ten games at the Palestra. The Nittany Lions got the best of Iowa and coach Fran McCaffery, a former Penn standout who played home games at the Palestra.

Penn State barely averaged an announced attendance of 10,000 fans last season at its on-campus arena, the Bryce Jordan Center. But 193 miles down the road at the Palestra, the heart of Philly hoops, the steamy gym was packed. Tickets on the secondary market were going for $150 a seat in the corners - or, "Corners! as its known when the Palestra is sold out -- and fans arrived early to walk the concourse that serves as much as a hall of fame as it does a stop for a $4 hot dog.

Walk past the pictures of Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain in their high school uniforms, and there's a photo of McCaffery in his No. 23 Penn jersey. The caption read, "Fran McCafferty, 1979-82, was integral in three Ivy League Championship titles for the Quakers." McCaffery walked in the same concourse doors Saturday as fans and fist-bumped a row of black-and-gold wearing supporters. Yes, even an Ivy League school can't ace spelling -- there's no T in McCaffery -- and McCaffery left with another unwanted letter: an L.

Penn State alumni roared "We Are!" from the opening tip and the Palestra decibel meter hit 11 when the Nittany Lions seemed poised to break the game open. Seth Lundy and Myles Dread hit 3s, Stevens turned a steal into a fast-break layup and another Penn State steal ended with a Stevens dunk and a 35-27 lead. Iowa collected itself and Dread's jumper to end the half gave the Hawkeyes a 39-38 lead.

Stevens sparked the idea of PSU making a return trip to Palestra. A graduate of Philadelphia's Roman Catholic High School, Stevens badgered Chambers about playing a game at the Palestra before his career ended. He surely could not have imagined a showdown between two nationally ranked teams going basket-for-basket in front of a packed house once Iowa agreed to play in Philly.

Big picture

Iowa: The Hawkeyes can only hope this kind of loss won't cost them an NCAA Tournament bid.

Penn State: Penn State played its first game as a ranked team against a ranked team for the first time since 1996. Chambers found little success over his first eight seasons, and has failed to lead the program to the NCAA Tournament. But powered by a deep, veteran roster, the Nittany Lions cracked the Top 25 this season for the first time since March 1996.

Up next

Iowa plays Tuesday at Nebraska.

Penn State plays Tuesday at Rutgers.

Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders: How bitter rivals became best friends at Penn State

Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders: How bitter rivals became best friends at Penn State

Two of the most dynamic young running backs in the NFL will be on display at the Linc Monday night.

One had the third-most yards from scrimmage ever by a rookie last year. The other is now a rookie and actually averaging more yards per touch.

They’re both 22, both from Pennsylvania, both dynamic runners and receivers, and both went to Penn State.

They’re fierce competitors. And they’re best friends.

Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders won’t be playing against each other Monday night, but you better believe they’ll be measuring themselves against each other.

That's how it's always been.

Barkley arrived at State College in the fall of 2015 and by the time Sanders arrived a year later, Barkley already had a firm grip on the starting running back position.

For two years, Sanders sat and waited.

He didn’t play until last year, when Barkley was with the Giants. But the respect they developed for each other as they competed became the basis of their friendship.

I wasn’t going to allow a five-star recruit to come in and take my job,” Barkley said from East Rutherford, New Jersey, earlier this week. “I knew they obviously envisioned a role for him, so we just competed the whole time but in a friendly way. Even though there was competition to be that starting back, it was always out of love, and I think just the respect we had for each others’ talents is what made our friendship grow so much stronger.

Barkley ran for nearly 1,100 yards as a freshman, then 1,500 yards as a soph and nearly 1,300 yards as a junior before declaring for the draft and going to the Giants with the second pick.

Sanders, buried behind Barkley, got just 25 carries as a freshman and 31 as a sophomore.

When he first got to campus, little things like drills we would do, 7-on-7s, his ability to catch the ball, you knew from the get-go he was going to be a tremendous player,” Barkley said. “It didn’t go how he wanted it to go. He probably wanted more reps or more carries while we were there at Penn State. But he was the same guy. He was a hard worker, he didn’t let that impact him. He always had that same work ethic and that same mentality that he wanted to be a lead back in college football one day, and he turned out to be one.

Sanders averaged less than three touches per game as a freshman and sophomore.

Barkley never left the field, and Sanders barely got on it.

Every single day [in college] I’m bringing out the best out of him, he’s bringing the best out of me,” Sanders said. “Drills, team practices, running certain plays, just seeing what he sees and what I see, just seeing the difference, stuff like that. We’d always do stuff after practice too, so it was always me and him, locked in, just trying to get better. … Everything didn’t go how I expected. It just didn’t go my way, but that didn’t change the way I felt about him or anything. Unbelievable player. Everybody knows that, the whole world knows that, nothing but respect for him. The relationship is really good.

Barkley told the story about his last home game in college. This was November of 2017, Penn State vs. Nebraska at Beaver Stadium.

That whole week, I was hurt with a back injury and I remember telling people, ‘I can’t not play, because if I don’t play the world’s going to see what this guy can do already and it’s not my time yet to leave.’ So that was in the back of my mind, finish the season out strong and let him do his thing next year.

Sanders laughs when he's asked about that game. Everybody on the outside thought this would finally be his chance to shine. Sanders knew better.

The whole week, he didn’t practice, he was in the training room the whole week, and everyone’s getting me ready like I’ll be starting. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t tell my family, because you never know. We’ve got Superman over there. He gets the start and then he takes one 60 yards (65 yards on the first play of the game). I’m like, ‘His back’s fine.’

With Barkley finally gone last fall, Sanders ran for 1,274 yards, and the Eagles drafted him in the second round.

Barkley averaged 22 touches per game as a rookie. Sanders is averaging about 12. So the numbers are difficult to compare. 

One thing is clear. They can both play.

The football world will see that Monday night.

It’s going to be real special,” Sanders said. “I remember talking about this even before the season started, when we were guessing where I would end up. I told him if I’m with the Eagles, we’d get to see each other twice a year. But really at the end of the day I’d be pretty selfish to tell you that I’m focused on Saquon. For real, for real, I’m really just focused on getting a W. We’ve got some stuff to handle. We’ve got to handle business. It’s going to be fun, but I’m mainly focused on something else.

The Giants have lost eight straight games and are playing out the string under head coach Pat Shurmur, the longtime Eagles assistant coach, who will likely be fired after the season.

The Eagles still have a fair chance to win the NFC East, but they’re 5-7 and have lost three straight.

Barkley vs. Sanders will be a fascinating side story to a game between two struggling teams.

I’m not too focused on out-rushing Miles. He’s one of my really good friends, I wish nothing but the best for him, just a healthy game, a healthy rest of the season and rest of his career. My main focus is going out there and trying to help my team win.

- Barkley

We’ve got to win these four games to get into the playoffs, and to be in the playoffs my rookie year would be pretty special, so that’s really all I’m focused on. But it’s definitely going to be fun playing against Saquon, don’t get me wrong.

- Sanders

A quick comparison:

• Sanders is actually averaging more yards per touch so far than Barkley did during his Rookie of the Year season — 5.9 to 5.8.

• Barkley had 911 yards from scrimmage on his first 147 touches. Sanders has 879 yards on his 147 touches.

• Barkley and Sanders rank first and fourth in most total yards by Penn State running backs as rookies. Here’s the all-time top five: Barkley (2,028), Curt Warner (1,774), Franco Harris (1,235), Sanders (879), Blair Thomas (824).

Barkley and Sanders are the only Penn State running backs drafted in the first two rounds since Larry Johnson in 2003, so Monday night’s game will be quite a showcase for a program not known for producing running backs.

When I got there my first year, going 7-6, and now being one of the top programs and having two running backs in the NFL playing on a Monday night from the same school just shows you where we’re going as a program,” Barkley said. “You can see last year’s Rookie of the Year and a guy who’s been playing at that caliber as a rookie this year over there at Philly and you can see where we came from and where it kind of started.

Barkley is signed through 2021 and Sanders through 2022, and both will probably be sticking around longer than that.

They’ve been ferocious rivals and the best of friends since they were teenagers, and they’re only getting started.

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No. 9 Penn State can't come all the way back to beat No. 2 Ohio State

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No. 9 Penn State can't come all the way back to beat No. 2 Ohio State

BOX SCORE 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After cruising through the first 10 games against teams that didn’t put up much a fight, No. 2 Ohio State found itself in a slugfest with No. 9 Penn State.

The Buckeyes responded, winning with defense.

Justin Hillard intercepted Penn State backup Will Levis’ pass and the Buckeyes stopped the Nittany Lions on fourth down on two late drives to seal a 28-17 victory and lock up the Big Ten East title.

J.K. Dobbins rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns, and Justin Fields threw for 188 yards and two scores for Ohio State (10-0, 8-0).

Ohio State held on after Penn State (9-2, 7-2) took advantage of two second-half turnovers to climb back in the game after trailing 21-0. This was a far different scenario for Ohio State, which hadn’t yet had to play hard into the second half.

“We talked about going into a big heavyweight match, and you have to take shots,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “One of the things about playing in a game like this is you have to be willing to take punches and you have to not flinch when it happens. That was a great example. That was the first time we really were taking shots there.”

The Buckeyes were clinging to a 21-17 lead early in the fourth quarter when Fields threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave to create some breathing room.

Ohio State, with Chase Young back from a two-game suspension, then got the interception from Hillard before shutting down two late Penn State drives on fourth down, aided by deafening crowd noise. The last drive included back-to-back sacks of backup quarterback Will Levis by Young and linebacker Baron Browning.

Fields fights back

Fields fumbled away the ball twice, once as he was crossing the goal line for what would have been a touchdown. But he got critical yards on the ground, rushing for 68 yards on 21 carries and threw beautiful second half touchdown passes to K.J. Hill and Olave.

And he got knocked around plenty, and at one point late in the game was slow to get up after being sacked but stayed in the game.

“He’s a warrior, I’m telling you,” Day said. “He’s got the heart of a lion.”

Chase returns

Young was back in action after sitting out two games as a penalty for breaking the rules by accepting a personal loan. And he was a force, picking up nine tackles, including three sacks. He has 16 1/2 for the season, the most ever by a Buckeye.

Clifford out

Freshman QB Levis finished up Penn State’s first scoring drive in the third quarter -- capped by an 18-yard touchdown run by Journey Brown -- after Sean Clifford left the game with an injury. Coach James Franklin said Clifford was available to come back in but wasn’t 100% so he stayed with Levis, who scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.

“I was a little nervous the first couple plays, but then it all went away, and I started having fun and doing my thing,” Levis said.

Coincidentally, Levis signed with Penn State after Fields withdrew his commitment to Franklin and chose Georgia in 2018. Fields transferred to Ohio State in January.

The takeaway

Penn State: Statistically, the Nittany Lions were beaten soundly but managed to hang around until late. Journey Brown ran the ball 11 times for 64 yards.

“No one flinched,” Penn State safety Garrett Taylor said. “We came out and fought hard.”

Ohio State: The Buckeyes outgained the Nittany Lions 417-227 but were stricken by uncharacteristic turnovers. Now it’s on to Ann Arbor for the rivalry game against No. 12 Michigan.

“It’s good to have a full game under your belt, especially going into next week,” linebacker Pete Werner said.

Poll implications

Buckeyes should stay put. Nittany Lions could drop but not much after playing Ohio State tough.

Up next

Penn State: Hosts Rutgers next Saturday in season finale.

Ohio State: Winds up the regular season next Saturday with rivalry game against Michigan.