Penn State basketball made a nice run over the weekend. A last hurrah for all those tasked with punching tickets to the “Big Dance” a.k.a. March Madness. For the record, Pat Chambers and crew are adamant they’ve done enough to slide in. Now they play the week-long waiting game until Sunday’s announcement; sitting pretty with 21 wins and an appearance in the Big Ten Tournaments semifinals. Three games in three days proved too much in the end, but Penn State basketball gave as good a shot as can be expected towards raising eyebrows one final time.
Nestled in between a commanding first-round win over Northwestern that saw the Nittany Lions pull away in the final minutes of the game and a semifinal loss to Purdue that highlighted the fatigue on the team’s spaghetti arms was the sweet taste of victory over our arch nemesis, Ohio State. Tony Carr fooled the entire New York City audience and passed to a slashing Josh Reaves for the game-winning slam and punctuation on a one-point win. That alone was enough to firmly entrench Penn State back on the bubble despite a regular-season ending fizzle over the last three games with big man Mike Watkins on the bench with a leg injury.
Carr was the first player since OSU’s Evan Turner in 2009 to score over 25 points two games in a row in a Big Ten Tournament and earned a slot on the All-Tournament team for his prowess. Against Purdue, senior Shep Garner played his heart out till the bitter end in his last game versus conference competition by matching his jersey number and pouring in 33. Widely credited with being the first to open the newfound pipeline to Philly hard-courts and change the culture of Penn State basketball, it was a fitting end to watch Shep give his all with a chance to dance on the line.
All that’s left is the waiting game. Will they, or won’t they? Twenty-one wins, including the trifecta over the Evil Empire should be enough, but those 13 losses, most glaringly with Rider in late December and underwhelming Wisconsin and Minnesota teams in Big Ten play, may ultimately relegate this squad to the second-tier NIT. Keep in mind, last year at this time there was no Big Ten Tournament for Penn State, let alone an invite to a post-season dance anywhere. Their overall record was dismal a year ago, and all Chamber’s has asked since then is for us to climb with them. Climb they did throughout the entirety of the season. The loss of Reaves for four games in January hurt and the loss of Watkins down the stretch was glaring. With either on the court, most say the waiting game wouldn’t even be a question. So, hang in there folks, whether we find ourselves in the NIT or slip into March Madness on Sunday, Penn State basketball is definitely trending in the right direction!