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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Look to Hit Reset in Postseason, But Not Erase Regular Season

by on March 09, 2020 3:40 PM

Penn State men's basketball coach Pat Chambers didn't hesitate on Monday afternoon to bring up the positives during his weekly media session despite his team picking up its fifth loss in six games on Saturday.

"76 wins by the senior class. 61 wins overall the last three seasons, 33 in the Big 10. Most of any three year span," Chambers said. "There's a lot of success here, and it needs to be talked about, you know, we all want to dwell on the last few games in the last two weeks, I get that. But I'm going to choose to look at the positives, because we can't steal the joy of this team. This group, and what they did, where they put us, and where we're going. This week, and then on Sunday.

"It's exciting stuff, eight straight league wins. First time in program history for road wins at Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Nebraska. We've only won there six times out of 81. This group did that together...There's a lot to celebrate."

Chambers' statement was really his first counterpunch at what has become a increasing gloomy narrative around his program, despite what has objectively been an otherwise historic regular season resume. The Nittany Lions are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, almost certainly bound for a middle seed, an accomplishment not short on reasons for fans to celebrate. All the same, a late-season losing streak coupled with the suspension of big man Mike Watkins — who Chambers said is still day to day — has made for a far less celebratory final weeks of the year.

While Chambers' was the first to acknowledge the goals left unaccomplished, he was also quick to look ahead, not dwelling on an underwhelming conclusion to an otherwise successful regular season campaign.

"We wish we would have got the double bye, and, you know, co-champs. Don't get me wrong, I wanted all that," Chambers said. "But I also can't diminish what this group has meant to me and what they've done this year. Let's celebrate them. And now we start fresh. I think this is the best thing that could happen to us. The end of the regular season, starting fresh, reboot, recalibrate for a new (post) season. We had an amazing practice. We went old school like it was October 15 again. They came with incredible energy and enthusiasm. That's what we need to see to finish off March."

Chambers said his team watched a five minute video about all of the things it had accomplished this year before taking to the practice gym. For the likes of Lamar Stevens, hearing Penn State's name called on Sunday within the bracket will mean a career's worth of effort finally paying off.

But true to form the senior forward is far less interested in his own accomplishments and more that of the team, a group that is looking to get back to its defensive roots in time for the games that can redefine how people remember the 2019-20 season.

"We got away a little bit from our backbone. What our staple is. What we hang our hat on," Stevens said of the Nittany Lions' defense. "But not anymore. You know we talked about as a team after the previous loss and that's what we hang our hat on. That's our pride, that's what we do, we guard everybody, everybody's uncomfortable. Nobody wants to feel comfortable playing Penn State. And that's the brand of basketball we're getting back to, and we're excited, you know, to keep pushing each other and get ready for whoever we play on Thursday."

The good news for Penn State is the same as the bad. The Nittany Lions are talented, they've accomplished a lot and the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament is a great opportunity to put the bad feelings of a losing streak behind them. Penn State will face teams outside of the Big Ten for the first time in months and will do it with do-or-die stakes. 

If they can get back to their roots, they'll be a hard team to pick against. If they can't, there will be no tomorrow, and a lingering sense that a historic season could have been all the more memorable, and for far more of the right reasons.

Penn State, the No. 6 seed, will begin Big Ten Tournament play at approximately 9 p.m. on Thursday, facing the winner of Wednesday's first-round game between No. 14 seed Nebraska and No. 11 Indiana. The game will air on BTN.

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