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Penn State Basketball: Belief a Good Friend for Nittany Lions to Have as March Draws Near

by on February 26, 2020 10:45 PM

Belief is really the only reason Penn State has gotten this far.

The experiment, if you'd like to call it that, would have failed years ago had DJ Newbill not believed Penn State might just be the place for him. The same could be said for Tony Carr, Mike Watkins, Lamar Stevens and a growing cast of characters who have made the drive from Philadelphia across the Turnpike and 322 to see what is going on in State College.

Belief is what gets a roster full of players to face down a decade of failure and say "that won't happen to us."

Of course talent helps. Coaching helps. Good crowds and a few friendly bounces haven't hurt matters any either.

But it all starts with belief.

Enter Myles Dread, Penn State's sophomore guard who has for the better part of the season searched far and wide for a three-point shot that can — at times — turn him into as hot of a sharpshooter as they come in the Big Ten. It's a streaky trait, which stems not from a lack of confidence but rather the snakebitten nature of shooters who are perpetually on the edge of elite but struggle to overcome the inevitable razor-thin requirements of shooting a basketball.

So with just seconds to go, Penn State trailing by two, Dread took to the court having gone 1-for-6 from beyond the arc. Penn State as a team had yet to hit an attempt from deep in the second half after making six in the first. Despite a dependance on the game's most popular shot, the Nittany Lions are quite literally hit or miss, hot and cold, often during the same game.

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And yet, Dread still believed. In spite of an off night, in spite of a pressure to win held in his hands, in spite of all the reasons it would have been easier to pass the ball to Lamar Stevens, Dread moved around the screen and hoisted up a rainbow.

Nothing but net.

Nothing but belief.

"It's not necessarily my confidence, it's my teammate's confidence in me, you know," Dread said on Wednesday night following Penn State's 65-64 win over Rutgers "They're always telling me keep shooting the ball... that just goes to show how much my teammates, believe in me... It's my job to shoot the ball. If I don't shoot, I don't play."

There is, of course, a lot that can be said of the route Penn State took to victory on Wednesday night. There is nothing conventional nor advisable about turning 21 point leads into a two-point deficits. The cause of such a second-half slump is likely the product of many things at once. Rutgers is not bad, Penn State is also a good team, but not a team which can simply snap the necks of similar opponents by sheer force of will. The Nittany Lions are tired. Stevens in particular looks the part of someone who has had to carry more than his fair share the past few games. Basketball happens, shots don't fall, defense does. 

Basketball is a fickle beast.

But now the calendar slowly ticks towards March, a month where the how doesn't matter nearly as much as the what. Penn State picked up its 21st victory of the regular season, a double-edged sword that turns fans' thoughts of simply making the postseason into dreams of making postseason runs. Success breeds a desire for more of success.

None of that success happens without belief.

"When [Watkins and Stevens] first came here, maybe that belief wasn't as strong as it is today," coach Pat Chambers said after the game.

"But they believe that they're going to go out and win every single game. I mean, we showed that at Indiana [making a comeback] and getting a six point lead. I mean, things were going against us in the second half here, but the Big Ten is so good. It's so good top to bottom. It's an incredible gauntlet. But they believe that somehow, some way we're going to draw up a play or we're going to get a stop, and somebody's going to get a rebound to secure this victory."

Penn State will break down the film, and it will cringe at the mistakes and errors. It will sigh at the dumb fouls or preventable turnovers. There will be lessons to learn and lessons forgotten. 

But at the end of the day the Nittany Lions will head to Iowa, play Michigan State, go to Northwestern and the postseason beyond believing that it can win.

That's half the equation to winning, and a dangerous weapon to wield during the season's most important month. Especially when the shots fall and reward you for that faith.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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