One team, Penn State, is coming off a breakthrough win against a top-20 team, while the other, Maryland, suffered a close loss to a top-five opponent. But it’s the Terps who were installed as a favorite in Saturday’s meeting.
The Terps (6-1) are 4 1/2-point favorites over the Nittany Lions (4-2), who upset No. 12 Virginia Tech on Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It was one of the biggest wins of Pat Chambers’ eight-season tenure at Penn State, the seventh of which ended with Chambers on the hot seat.
“Great learning experience. Great confident boost going into two Big Ten games,” Chambers said afterward. ” I want our guys to enjoy tonight and enjoy this victory. We will start working on Big Ten play as it approaches on Saturday. We have a lot of room for growth and we can get a heck of a lot better. Even if we dropped this game, I still think that we can go on and still be a very good team.”
Maryland, meanwhile, fell behind against No. 4 Virginia in the Challenge by as many as 17 points, staged several second-half rallies but never could whittle the deficit smaller than four points. Turnovers were the difference — Maryland committed 14, and UVA just two. It was the first blemish of the season for the young Terps, and the start of a rapid ascent in the level of competition they’ll face. After Penn State, they travel ton Purdue on Thursday.
“Let’s be real. We’re playing five young guys out of our top eight and we’re going to have some growing pains,” Turgeon said. “We’re going to get better.”
For the first game of a long conference season, it feels a bit more important than usual. Maryland needs to show growth from the Virginia loss and Penn State needs to sustain the momentum from its Virginia Tech win. Both are potential NCAA Tournament teams. The Terps were picked seventh in the preseason Big Ten Poll, and the Nittany Lions landed 11th. Chambers’ team has lost to DePaul and Bradley, but didn’t have standout big man Mike Watkins for either of those games. He returned in time for the Virginia Tech game.
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“Maryland’s good. They were top 25 for a reason,” Chambers said. “They’ve got Anthony Cowan, who’s terrific. He’s an all Big Ten caliber player. And [Bruno] Fernando, who’s one of the best bigs, if not the best big ,in the league. With some really talented freshmen and sophomores. So it’s gonna be a great challenge.”
It’s safe to expect a close game. All six meetings between the two schools since Maryland joined the Big Ten have been decided by six points or less. Penn State’s won two of the past three after Maryland won the first three.
“Maryland’s gonna be out for blood,” Chambers said. “So it’s going to be a really big challenge for us.”