PHILADELPHIA (AP) Penn State brought a slice of Happy Valley to the Palestra and fans were set to make it happy hour deep into the Philly night.
“You have a time for a pop?” Tim Chambers bellowed to fans who trudged through the snow to sit in the old-style gym.
“Smokey Joe’s! Smokey Joe’s!”
So off they went to the old-school tavern, a victory celebration on tap.
Hey, maybe Pat Chambers will even pick up the tab.
In his sixth season as coach, Chambers picked up one of his biggest wins yet, in front of family – including brother Tim – friends and the roaring “We Are!” alums that gave the Nittany Lions the home edge they needed 200 miles from campus.
Lamar Stevens scored 18 points and Tony Carr had 14 to lead Penn State to a 72-63 win over Michigan State at the Palestra on Saturday.
“These kids will never forget this experience as long as they live,” Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten) pulled off a monumental win for the program at the famed Philly gym and beat the Spartans for the first time since 2011. Penn State led almost the entire game and gave thousands of fans who came out in the snow a reason to bellow “We Are!” in the waning minutes.
“I’d love to come back here again, for sure,” Chambers said.
Tom Izzo might not RSVP his next invite.
Izzo, Michigan State’s Hall of Fame coach, had said a game at the Palestra was one of the few items left on his basketball bucket list. He even toured the gym that has seen players from Wilt Chamberlain to LeBron James call it home for a game.
By the final horn, Izzo had seen enough.
“My apologies to this magnificent facility,” he said. “I loved the experience. I appreciated the hall. I appreciated everything about it – except I feel like we cheated those of you who have seen great teams and great coaches and great players play here. You got robbed today by the team in green.”
Nick Ward scored 16 points and was the only player to have a decent game for the Spartans (11-6, 3-1). The Spartans missed 16 of 23 3s and they shot 37 percent from the floor overall in the second half.
The only Penn State boos came when Izzo called a timeout with 31 seconds left and Penn State up 71-60.
“Having the building packed like that, it’s special every time,” Stevens said. “I felt at home.”
The gym long dubbed the Cathedral turned 90 last week and hosted one of its more anticipated games since North Carolina played Penn in 2007. The Palestra, on Penn’s Ivy League campus, had long been the site of all the Big 5 games played by Philly teams Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, La Salle and Villanova. The city games have mostly moved to campus – though No. 1 Villanova packed the place for a win last month against La Salle – and this one was a rare game between two schools with no city ties. The 8,722-seater sold out in September and no tickets were for sale Saturday morning on StubHub.
Penn State tried to claim Philly as its own; one booster delivered a timeout pep talk and boasted “We dominate this city!”
Jay Wright and the Wildcats might dispute that inflammatory claim.
Penn State gladly ditched the gloomy, empty Bryce Jordan Center for a packed gym that thrilled alums and certainly helped Chambers highlight the program to a fertile recruiting area.
The game was Penn State’s only scheduled appearance on ESPN this season.
The Nittany Lions had six Philly area players already on the roster. Shep Garner, of Chester, Pennsylvania, had a fan club wearing “We Rep Shep” T-shirts in the bleachers and his mother sang the national anthem.
While pockets of green sprouted throughout the ol’ gym, this was a true PSU home game. Penn State even aired a football highlight video that celebrated the Rose Bowl appearance and the Nittany Lion mascot posed for photos with the Big Ten championship trophy.
The “We Are” chants turned into massive cheers as the Nittany Lions rolled to a 44-32 halftime lead. The sequence that got the crowd rocking came when forward Josh Reaves had a monster blocked shot on one end that led to Payton Banks’ 3 on the other for a 27-19 lead.
Michigan State: The Spartans started four freshmen and committed 17 turnovers. Izzo ripped the “effortless approach” and said there’s plenty of work ahead for the Spartans to become a Big Ten title contender. “I’m just so tired of trying to explain why I don’t see the big light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Penn State: Chambers said the national significance of the victory could give his middling program a boost. “I didn’t digest it that deeply yet but I would venture to say yes.”
Michigan State: Returns home Wednesday to play Minnesota at the Breslin Center.
Penn State: Off until Saturday when it has a home game against the Gophers.