It’s been written in my notepad after almost every weekly Patrick Chambers press conference since the beginning of the calendar year: “We’re close…”
Each time, the second-year Penn State coach’s words were scribbled down with a little less care and a little lengthier ellipsis than the time before, as his words appeared less and less likely to be true to me with each passing loss.
I wasn’t necessarily buying it — especially as Penn State headed into one of the toughest four-game stretches of its season to close out Big Ten play with not a single conference win to its name.
Chambers’ unwavering optimism remained constant from the start, but the Nittany Lions continued to appear hopeless in the Big Ten, finding a different way to lose almost every ballgame.
I thought, two weeks ago when the Lions lost on their homecourt in heartbreaking fashion to Iowa, it may have been the last straw. After clawing back inside within two points with under a minute to play, Chambers’ squad once again faltered late and missed an excellent shot at a victory, losing 74-72.
Two losses later, the Lions found themselves at 0-14 — the only team in the major six conferences without a conference victory — heading into their matchup against No. 4 Michigan on Wednesday. The next two games would be on the road, where they haven’t won once all season, before closing the season at home against No. 17 Wisconsin.
I admittedly predicted the Lions losing out the final four games. Penn State simply hadn’t proven itself capable enough to win in its murderous Big Ten schedule for me to predict otherwise.
The Tim Frazier-less Lions could have rather easily packed it up and called it a season, too, looking forward to a brighter future that would include Frazier and the majority of the team’s main contributors.
However, that’s not how the tale will be told of the 2012-13 Penn State men’s basketball team.
Chambers and his squad put forth their most inspired performance of the season, whipping up some Senior Night magic to stun the Wolverines in dramatic fashion, 84-78.
Down by as many as 15 in the second half, the Lions showed great determination in clawing back to claim that elusive first Big Ten victory. Forward Jon Graham played through a bloody cut he suffered on his forehead, while Ross Travis returned after sitting out briefly when trainers attended to his leg late in the game.
After the contest, Chambers — who has never stopped preaching “attitude”— said as he looked at his players’ faces down the stretch, he saw how hungry they still were for a win nearly two months after last experiencing the euphoria of one.
“That is Penn State basketball, baby,” Chambers said of his players’ relentless attitude. “That is it. Get a good picture of that, because that’s what it’s going to be.”
Although a single victory in itself may not mean much for Chambers’ squad this season, in the grand scheme of things, Penn State’s upset over Michigan on Feb. 27, 2013 could very well be looked at as a turning point for a program on the rise.
This team has an extremely bright future. The return of Frazier, along with the scoring abilities of D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, could make for an exciting 2013-14 season.
Yet, as evidenced by last night’s performance, the Lions showed they haven’t forgotten about the importance of the present.
Even if some, like myself, may have begun to.