Penn State picked up its first conference win of the season with an exclamation point on Thursday night, rolling Purdue 65-45 at the Bryce Jordan Center behind a strong rebounding effort and lights-out shooting by junior Billy Oliver.
The Nittany Lions (9-7, 1-2 Big Ten), earned a +12 margin on the glass, topping the Boilermakers (12-4, 2-1 Big Ten) 38-26 on the glass overall and 12-6 on the offensive boards, an impressive performance to be sure.
But then, there was Oliver.
The Chatham, N.J. native scored all 21 of his points on 7-11 shooting from behind the 3-point line, setting a new career high in scoring. Put together with 15 points, nine assists and five rebounds from junior Tim Frazier and 10 points from sophomore Jermaine Marshall, Oliver's effort was enough not just for Penn State to win, but dominate a Big Ten opponent that had won five of its previous six games.
"I'm just so proud of the players," coach Patrick Chambers told the Big Ten Network after the game. "I put them through two of the toughest practices I ever put anybody through and they responded so well."
He can say that again.
Purdue appeared stymied by the Penn State zone all night. Though the Boilers closed the deficit to four points after trailing 32-18 at the half, 31.9 percent shooting, including 26.1 percent (6-23) from 3-point range was far too much for them to overcome.
The victory keeps Penn State out of an early 0-3 Big Ten hole with No. 12 Indiana coming to Happy Valley for a showdown on Sunday afternoon. A win in that game, and suddenly the Lions, picked by many to finish at the very bottom of the Big Ten, could find itself in the middle of the pack and the thick of a race for, at the very least, a postseason berth in the National Invitational Tournament.
Chambers thinks he had a road map to get there, too.
"They came with the open-mindedness and the willingness to get better," Chambers said. "And that's all I can ask for. Don't do anything you're not capable of doing. Stick to your strengths, just play hard and compete, give yourself a chance to win, and some nights, you make shots."