Penn State Basketball may not have gotten an invite to the Big Dance but they’re still dancing. All the way to the Big Apple, in fact! In a battle of We Are’s, considering that giant ‘We Are Marquette’ splashed boldly along the sideline, Penn State held on for an 85-80 victory over the Golden Eagles on the road in Milwaukee. The Nittany Lions survived a 10-2 run late in the fourth quarter, hit their free-throws down the stretch, and played mistake-free-ball with the game on the line. In doing so, they punched their ticket to the 2018 NIT Final Four and a return trip to the famed Madison Square Garden for the second time this month.
After giving their best shot at making an impression in the Big Ten Tournament in NYC to begin the month of March, Penn State returns with a New York state of mind and eyes on the prize of winning the 2018 NIT Tournament. Lamar Stevens took his turn in the spotlight rotation by scoring a career-high 30 and being virtually unstoppable inside the paint. Tony Carr (24 points) continued to be a maestro with the ball in his hands, and senior Shep Garner (19 points) did what he does best by killing them softly with three-point swishes.
With 6th man Nazeer Bostick suspended for his second straight game, true freshman Jamari Wheeler stepped up and gave the Golden Eagles fits on defense and fellow freshman Jon Harrar chipped in 4 points to go along with 9 crucial rebounds making his fourth start at center for the injured Mike Watkins.
Three days after going wire-to-wire and beating Notre Dame in South Bend, Penn State went up by as much as 15 at one point in Milwaukee and held the lead over Marquette 39 minutes of the 40-minute game. The reward for all their hard work and effort is a week of rest before heading back to the Big Apple to take care of unfinished business. It may not technically be a home game, but NYC promises to be as close to having a Blue and White flavor as you can get this side of Philly.
As a football junkie who just so happened to catch a little Penn State B-Ball fever and frenzy this year, the irony is not lost on me that our opponent next Tuesday night is none other than the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The same Mississippi State that snatched OC Joe Moorhead and running backs coach Charles Huff away from James Franklin and Happy Valley back in December. A friendly wager between FrankLion and his former assistants remains to be seen, but if there ever was a score to settle it all rests squarely on the shoulders of our basketball squad now.
Also, not lost on me are all the vivid memories of Pat Chambers being relegated to the hot seat, whether true or not. One name that kept popping up repeatedly as a possible replacement, or one that should have been hired instead: Steve Wojciechowski. You guessed it, current head coach of the freshly defeated Marquette Golden Eagles. How’s that for some irony? For all those keeping track, that makes one win over Little Brother from Philly, one takedown of the Leprechaun on St. Patty’s Day, and one sly grin from the man who has been asking us all season long to climb with him. Once again, it may not get the pomp and circumstance that all the madness has gotten on your NCAA brackets but with a robust 24 wins under their belt, it’s been a wild ride for your Penn State basketball team.