With a nightmarish 0-14 start in the Big Ten and not much to play for past the regular season, many teams would be prone to fold in their last few games.
The opposite rang true for Penn State, (10-20, 2-16 Big Ten) as the team played some of its best basketball to close the schedule. On Sunday, the Lions battled with No. 22 Wisconsin at the Bryce Jordan Center, falling 63-60 when the Badgers’ Traevon Jackson nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the game in devastating fashion.
The Nittany Lions did shoot relatively well, locking in their defense and protecting the ball with just six turnovers, nearly upsetting another ranked opponent in wake of their victory over then-No.4 Michigan on Feb. 27.
Coach Patrick Chambers, who has stressed multiple times that his team will not accept moral victories, echoed these sentiments yesterday after the close loss.
“What I would tell you is we lost, and I say this in the nicest way. Horseshoes is great when you get close, but in basketball it’s a loss,” Chambers said. “It happens too much around here to the men’s basketball program and everybody gets excited when we just get close. I’m tired of getting close, I want to win.”
Though Chambers was frustrated with his team’s defeat, the Lions have progressed recently, winning two of their final four games and competing with Wisconsin down to the wire. Intangibles stood out for the Lions toward the end of the season. They showed defensive prowess by getting big stops at crucial moments against Michigan and Northwestern. Both of these victories were decided in the closing minutes.
In both games against ranked opponents Michigan and Wisconsin, the Lions fought back from early deficits. In the opening minutes of the second half against Michigan, the Wolverines jumped out to a 15-point lead that the Lions overcame to win by six. Against the Badgers, the Lions faced a nine-point deficit early in the first half but held Wisconsin to a nearly six-minute scoring drought to get back into the game.
“I just think we are always willing to give it 100 percent,” redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall said. “We got down early and nobody hung their heads and we made a little run to get back into the game and we stuck together. I just think guys are not willing to give up on this team.”
With the regular season behind them, next up for the Lions is the Big Ten Tournament, where they will take on Michigan in the first round on Thursday. This will be the third meeting between the teams this season.
Redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill said even with the regular season ending on a bitter note, the team has some confidence heading into the tournament because it has bought into Chambers’ system and focused on attitude.
“Through our ups and downs during the season, we are staying focused,” Newbill said. “We believe in coach and he told us that we are almost there and we just kept playing. We kept playing hard. We trust his program of attitude and the attitude is paying off for us.”
The positives in the Lions’ play lately has Chambers looking forward to the conference tournament, but at the same time he expressed a little disappointment about the regular season coming to an end with his team playing at a high level.
“Call me crazy, and I know you have, but I don’t want the season to end,” Chambers joked. “We’re starting to figure some things out and they’re starting to play hard and together. D.J. looks like a solid point-guard, Jermaine’s playing at a high level, Sasa [Borovnjak] at a high level, Ross [Travis], Nick [Colella], they’re doing a great job. I’m excited for next week.”