Just moments before No. 1 Louisville succumbed to unranked, unrelenting Texas Tech on Tuesday, unranked Penn State quietly yet emphatically notched its own gem of a win, handing No. 4 Maryland its first loss of the season in a 76-69 victory vs. the Terrapins at home. The Nittany Lions (8-2) did the job in equally convincing fashion some 250 miles away as the Red Raiders.
They led for more than 15 minutes of game time to close the first half and never trailed in the second half, holding off Maryland's late run that ultimately fell flat. The Terrapins cut the lead to five in the final minute before Izaiah Brockington and Myles Dread rocked the game to sleep by hitting crucial free throws in clutch time.
That Penn State did the dang thing against a top-five team may come as a surprise, but a surprise it should not be. Penn State is good, gunning for great. After a 14-18 season last year that raised questions about Pat Chambers' long-term viability as the program's captain, Penn State brass stuck with him and brought him back. That decision is already paying dividends as the team is off to an 8-2 start -- its best in a half-decade.
What's more, Penn State was favored in this game -- by 2 points. Penn State has had Maryland's number the last few years on its home court, but Maryland's not been top-5 quality during that stretch. It shows just how improved Penn State is and how lethal it can be this season if it continues to fire on all cylinders. If it keeps up this hot start when Big Ten play resumes in January, we may have a darkhorse conference contender on our hands given the way preseason favorite Michigan State is trending.
The win for Penn State bumps it to 1-1 in league play on the year, with its losses coming to Ole Miss (by two on a neutral court) and to Ohio State (the probable No. 1 come Monday).
As for Maryland (10-1), it was thoroughly outplayed and still managed to keep the game competitive late. That's good news. The bad news: it turned the ball over 20 times (to Penn State's eight), shot 19-of-57 from the floor and 8-of-23 from 3-point range, and struggled to generate offense while star Jalen Smith managed only five shot attempts.
The road for Maryland doesn't get easier, either. It gets a week off before a gnarly road game against Seton Hall next Thursday, then conference play in January starts with improved Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue.