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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Shot At Miracle Run Starts Thursday Night

by on February 14, 2018 10:40 AM

Just over 24 hours before Penn State's pivotal meeting with Ohio State it's hard to know what to expect. The Nittany Lions could pull off the sweep, or lose by 15, that's the kind of year it has been.

The game itself has been marketed like 2009's contest against Illinois when Talor Battle's final shot to win it rolled in and sent a packed Jordan Center into a frenzy.

The win was supposed to send Penn State to the tournament. For a lot of reasons, it didn't.

But that game was also something of the final exclamation point on the season. The Nittany Lions had beaten people on the road, at home and had done it in a stacked Big Ten conference.

If we're being honest, Thursday night's game doesn't really hold that same feeling. The Nittany Lions have at least five games left in the season and will have to probably win four of them to get a serious NCAA Tournament look.

Ohio State, ranked eighth in the country, is just the first of the gauntlet. Then it's on the road at Purdue against a Boilermaker team that rarely loses to begin with, let alone at home. Then it's Michigan back in State College, a team that is well enough coached that it survives even when it should lose. Then it's to Nebraska to play in a building where Penn State players have nearly evaporated into thin air because of foul trouble.

Four regular season games, three against ranked teams, one against a team receiving votes in the poll.

In all honesty that's a difficult road to travel. It puts Penn State in the position of controlling its own destiny, but the Nittany Lions have that luxury more from the benefit of back-loaded scheduling than anything else. Essentially, the bulk of the meaningful work is left to be done.

But Penn State has an ace in its back pocket.

It believes.

It also happens to be playing maybe its best basketball of the past decade. When the Nittany Lions click they can beat anyone, and with Josh Reaves they nearly have. Penn State might be facing an Everest like path to the postseason, but with wins in five of the last six and more than a few near misses, it's not as though the Nittany Lions are new to the whole winning thing in 2018. If there ever was a team to pull off what would otherwise feel impossible, it's this one.

"Experience teaches you," Shep Garner said on Tuesday. "I can't say we're more or less prepared but you learn from your experiences."

Perhaps most important of all, the Nittany Lions don't appear intimidated by the moment. If anything that might be a silver lining for a team still searching for a postseason bid, it has nothing to lose. This isn't an NCAA bid on the line that a few defeats could take away. It's the first game in a four game marathon to try and earn it. You've got nothing to lose by playing fearless and everything to gain from it.

So really, Thursday night isn't like 2009 because it is really the start of its own story. If the Nittany Lions can make a run against some of the conferences' elite it will have earned its place at the postseason table. If it can't, it will be hard to look at that slate of games and point fingers. They will be pointed at moments earlier in the season.

Whatever is set to happen will start on Thursday night, a big game no matter how you slice it.

"Nobody really cares about the guy that did a whole bunch of stuff but lost,' Garner added. His long career coming to a close. "I'm more focused on the team. Let's win as many games as we can and everybody can get what the want."

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