STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State coach Patrick Chambers has watched his teams cough up enough leads late to know this squad is different.
The No. 13 Nittany Lions are hanging on and closing games out.
Lamar Stevens scored 23 points to lead Penn State over Northwestern 77-61 on Saturday.
Myles Dread scored 16 and Jamari Wheeler and Mike Watkins added 11 apiece for the Nittany Lions, who led for all but 6:29 to win their eighth straight.
They’ve arrived at 20 wins sooner than any other season in program history.
“We’ve been talking about moments since the beginning of the season and this is another moment for us,” Chambers said. “You can celebrate after the season. Right now, we’re trying to do something special. Something Penn State’s never done before.”
Boo Buie and Pete Nance had 12 points, Pat Spencer scored 11 and Miller Kopp had 10 for the Wildcats (6-18, 1-13 Big Ten), who lost their ninth in a row.
The Nittany Lions (20-5, 10-4) led 42-28 at halftime and by as many as 18 midway through the second half before the Wildcats clawed back.
Aided by a 17-6 run midway through the second half, Northwestern cut Penn State’s lead to seven with 5:16 left. But Dread drained a 3-pointer to help put the game out of reach and the Nittany Lions finished on a 10-4 run.
“Give credit to their guys who were able to hit some good shots when we put some pressure on them,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We had some opportunities in the paint that we couldn’t finish.”
The Wildcats had a good start. Kopp got the them started with a 3-pointer that quickly turned into an 11-9 lead for Northwestern. It didn’t last long.
Penn State extended its lead with back-to-back 3-pointers from Dread and Wheeler that sparked a 22-6 run, including a 10-0 stretch, that put Penn State up 35-19.
Wheeler has paced the Nittany Lions’ backcourt with his defensive skills all season. He’s third in the Big Ten in steals and helped fuel Penn State’s transition game.
Lately, he’s added some shooting touch.
The quick-footed guard has added some offensive touch lately. Wheeler had made just seven 3-pointers in Penn State’s first 22 games, but has drained five over the last three.
JONESIN’ TO PLAY
Penn State guard Myreon Jones missed his third straight game with an illness but appears to be on the mend.
Jones shot around with his teammates before the game and was on the bench. Chambers said Jones is getting healthier, but that Penn State wouldn’t rush their No. 2 shooter back.
“I think we need to ease him back,” Chambers said.
In the meantime, Dread has contributed not only his shot, but his defensive skills. Dread, who made 6 of 13 field goals, added four defensive rebounds, four assists a block and two steals.
“I’m going to start with his defense,” Chambers said. “Having him in there, we’re bigger, we’re stronger. Our defense has gotten even better with Myles right now.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Northwestern: The Wildcats have struggled to shoot and rebound the ball all season. They entered Saturday’s game dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, field goal percentage and rebounding offense.
Penn State: After building a double-digit lead, the Nittany Lions had to fend off another late comeback try at home after they almost let Minnesota back into the game last week.
Northwestern: Visits No. 9 Maryland on Tuesday.
Penn State: Hosts No. 22 Illinois on Tuesday.