STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — John Harrar managed an awkward smile and quick laugh after pulling himself up from the baseline where he had just been denied – by the rim – a highlight-reel dunk on an otherwise career-best day.
The missed wide-open slam aside, Harrar did plenty otherwise to help Penn State snap a decade-long skid against Wisconsin with an 81-71 win over the No. 14 Badgers on Saturday.
Harrar scored 14 of his career-high 17 in the second half and the Nittany Lions, who trailed 34-41 at halftime, led for all but 1:16 of the final 20 minutes.
“I think he just has great confidence now, and he should,” Penn State interim coach Jim Ferry said. “He’s putting pressure on me. I’ve got to start running plays for him.”
Myreon Jones scored 20 points and Izaiah Brockington added 18 Nittany Lions (6-7, 3-6 Big Ten), who had lost 13 straight against Wisconsin — including eight at home.
Penn State’s first win in the series since 2011 came after Jones sparked the offense with back-to-back baskets to open the second. Brockington and Harrar helped them steadily increase the margin.
Brockington, who a few minutes in set the tone with a high-flying, left-handed dunk, led the surge with eight points in the first 9:25. Wisconsin tried to keep pace, but Harrar was strong in the paint and made a tough and-1 jumper to help Penn State extend its lead to nine with 2:12 to play. Penn State built on it with free throws in the waning seconds.
“The defensive end was my main concern here, how we were not able to keep the ball out of the paint,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “The notion that we’re going to outscore teams is a fairytale. We’ve got to be really good defensively.”
The Nittany Lions scored 15 points off 12 Wisconsin turnovers and finished with 17 fastbreak points. Jamari Wheeler had five assists, while Seth Lundy and Brockington each had three.
“I just think the way we play, and when these guys are locked in and these guys share the ball like this, we’re a hard team to defend,” Ferry said.
Nate Reuvers led Wisconsin (13-5, 7-4) with 18 points, Aleem Ford had 15 and Tyler Wahl 13.
Both teams used slick passing to set up quick scoring bursts and swapped the lead eight times in the first half. Wisconsin was slightly better from the floor, however, where the Badgers made 43.8% of their field goals to Penn State’s 37.5%.
They got a boost from Wahl, who scored seven points in a 1:40 span to give the Badgers control heading into halftime. Wahl backed Lundy into the paint twice, spinning toward the baseline for a pretty up-and-under layup on his first make. He mimicked the move on Wisconsin’s next possession, but pivoted the other way and sank a fadeaway jumper.
Moments later, Wahl blocked a layup attempt by Jones, then pulled up in transition for a 3-pointer that put the Badgers up 29-25.
The Nittany Lions made just two of their final 10 field goals, while Ford added a 3-pointer and D’Mitrik Trice made two free throws to end the first half.
Penn State guard Sam Sessoms returned to the lineup after missing the Ohio State game with an ankle injury. Sessoms came off the bench to add a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and finished with eight points.
THE BIG PICTURE
Wisconsin: It was a quiet afternoon for Micah Potter, who finished with just six points and didn’t score his first basket until dunking midway through the second half. Meanwhile, the Badgers were dreadful from 3-point range with just six makes on 25 tries.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions looked ready to play in this game and got strong efforts up and down the lineup to improve to 2-3 against Top 25 teams this season.
Wisconsin hosts Penn State on Tuesday.