STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)—Penn State’s youngsters passed a stiff test at the free-throw line and got a huge reward.
Stanley Pringle scored 19 points and Penn State went 16-of-20 from the foul line in the game’s final four minutes to upend No. 8 Michigan State 85-76 on Saturday night and snap the Spartans’ five-game winning streak.
Talor Battle had 17 points and David Jackson added nine—all from the free throw line—as the Nittany Lions scored their first win over a ranked team in two years.
No wonder fans rushed the court after the final buzzer sounded at the Jordan Center.
“It was crazy, I didn’t know they would do that,” Pringle said. “I didn’t know whether to run or what.”
The Nittany Lions faithful will remember this game for a while. Penn State came into night on a six-game losing streak and seemed like big underdogs to defeat one of the Big Ten’s best teams, even in Happy Valley.
“This feels like a million dollars, I guess,” said Battle, a freshman. “It’s just one of those feelings that you can just talk about forever.”
The odds were stacked against Penn State, especially without forward Geary Claxton, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury last month. Penn State (11-10, 3-6 Big Ten) has had trouble scoring since then, and failed to hit a field goal the last seven minutes against the Spartans.
Things looked bleak for Penn State after they squandered a 10-point advantage midway through the second half when Kalin Lucas darted through the lane for a bucket to give Michigan State (19-3, 7-2) a 60-58 lead.
But the Nittany Lions found relief through unlikely means—on the foul line, where Penn State had shot just 59 percent entering Saturday.
Newcomers like Pringle, a junior transfer, and Jackson, a redshirt freshman, made key foul shots. Battle has played well this season at point guard.
Penn State broke a tie and took the lead for good behind free throws by Jamelle Cornley, Mike Walker and Pringle to go up 74-69 with 3:20 left.
The Spartans had trouble finding good shots, while the Nittany Lions kept hitting at the foul line, including four in the last 37 seconds by Pringle.
The band played the alma mater as fans mobbed the court. It was Penn State’s first win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 6 Illinois on the road on Feb. 4, 2006, and their first victory over a ranked team at home in seven years — also over No. 6 Illinois, on Jan. 31, 2001.
Penn State also snapped an eight-game losing streak against Michigan State. Nittany Lions coach Ed DeChellis finally got the best of Spartans counterpart Tom Izzo.
“I think they would have been about 12-2 if they didn’t have some injuries early, and if there’s any slight bit of solace in this whole thing, that guy deserves to have something good happen to him because he’s been through a lot,” Izzo said about DeChellis.
Izzo’s star guard, Drew Neitzel, struggled for the second straight game and finished 2-of-10 from the field for six points. Neitzel scored 15 points in Michigan State’s previous game, a 51-41 win over Illinois, but was just 4-of-12 from the field.
When asked if something was wrong with Neitzel, Izzo said the guard was not injured or sick before adding, “I don’t blame you for asking that question.”
Still, the athletic Spartans seemed to hold the upper hand in talent over the Nittany Lions, especially in the lane.
Lucas paced Michigan State with 18 points off the bench. The lightning-quick freshman did his best to make up for Neitzel’s struggles, capping a 17-5 run with back-to-back layups to give Michigan State its 60-58 lead.
It was back-and-forth from there until Penn State pulled away at the line. Penn State finished 34-of-51 in free throw shooting for the game to make up for their field-goal woes.
Michigan State was off to the best 21-game start in school history, but that came to an abrupt halt in an unexpectedly tense game in Happy Valley.
“I’m thrilled. We kind of executed when needed to and made enough free throws at the right times to win,” DeChellis said.