Penn State Basketball: Lions Go NCAA Dancing vs. Temple
by Kevin Wesley
The Big Ten championship game on Sunday was essentially over midway through the second half, Ohio State’s superior talent finally wearing the Nittany Lions down. A brave late surge by the underdogs couldn't change the inevitable, a 71-60 victory by the Buckeyes.
There was no shame in this for Penn State—not in its fourth game in as many days, and certainly not against the No. 1 team in the nation.
A win would’ve been huge for the Lions, making the first Big Ten title game appearance in program history. But in truth, the loss to the Buckeyes hardly mattered.
With a 61-48 win Saturday over Michigan State — their third win in three days, two of them coming against NCAA tournament teams — the Nittany Lions ensured that their own dreams of an NCAA berth were not only alive, but about to become tangible reality.
The tournament committee confirmed as much Sunday night, naming Penn State the the 10th seed in the West region of the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
The Lions will play their first NCAA game in a decade when they meet Temple of the Atlantic 10 in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday. On Saturday, the winner will play the victor of the game between second-seed San Diego State and Northern Colorado.
BERTH OF THE LIONS
From the start of the season, the formula for this Penn State team to make the tournament was simple:
Assume Talor Battle continued to play like one of the best guards in the nation, pray for his fellow seniors— especially the talented and athletic forward Jeff Brooks — to play to their potential, and get some help from the team’s youngsters.
Early-season stumbles and a handful of conference near misses aside, the Lions today are an NCAA tournament team because that formula worked out as hoped.
Battle last week was named first-team all-Big Ten, thanks to a season in which he finished just a few points off the conference scoring lead. Seniors David Jackson and Andrew Jones were mostly solid, while Brooks emerged (finally) as one of the most difficult matchups in the conference.
Had Brooks not lost a couple of games to a shoulder injury midway through the Big Ten slate, the Lions might easily have won another game or two and never been on the bubble in the first place.
And the youngsters?
There were occasional flashes from guys like Cam Woodyard and Jermaine Marshall, while the suspension of highly touted freshman Taran Buie for the entirety of the conference schedule looked like a huge blow.
But all of that was overshadowed by the play of sophomore guard Tim Frazier, whose speed, playmaking ability and ever-growing confidence in his scoring have been invaluable. Frazier played the game of his life Saturday in the Big Ten tournament semis, putting up 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists (with just two turnovers) in the win that punched the Lions’ dance card.
FIRST DANCE SINCE 2001
The Nittany Lions last made the NCAA tournament in 2001, when Joe Crispin, Gyasi Cline-Heard and and Titus Ivory led seventh-seeded Penn State to a first-round win over Providence and a second-round upset of No. 2 seed North Carolina before losing to Temple in the Sweet 16.
As such, it’s the program’s first NCAA trip in eight seasons under DeChellis, but it’s not the coach’s first time dancing. He led East Tennessee State to the 2003 Southern Conference championship and an automatic NCAA tournament berth. A few weeks later, he was named head coach at Penn State.
It’s only the eighth-ever NCAA invite for the Nittany Lion program.
Penn State teams have an overall tournament record of 9-10, but there have been some memorable wins in that time. The 1954 team remains the only Penn State squad to make the Final Four, where a Jesse Arnelle-led squad lost to LaSalle before beating USC in the long-forgotten third-place game.
In 1991, a lightly regarded, 13th-seeded Penn State team still playing in the Atlantic-10 shocked fourth-seed UCLA in the opening round before narrowly losing to Eastern Michigan.
And of course, that 2001 squad added its own scalp from a member of the basketball aristocracy, knocking off a talented but underachieving UNC squad en route to the Sweet 16.
And this year?
Just as they have been in most of their previous NCAA trips, the Lions will be underdogs.
But with Talor Battle—one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball, and a young man everyone affiliated with the Penn State program is thrilled for on Sunday—on the court and the Lions’ senior class looking to go out on a high, an upset or two this week shouldn’t shock anyone.
The Big Ten tournament certainly proved that, the loss on Sunday to the Buckeyes – the NCAA Tournament’s top seed – not withstanding.