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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Upset No. 22 Indiana 68-63

by on February 06, 2016 11:10 PM

For several moments they stood together in an embrace. In the middle of the chaos they shared a moment in silence.

Brandon Taylor and Pat Chambers, two people transformed by their time spent together on the long road towards building a more respectable basketball program. Taylor more mature and a more productive player, Chambers too a different person and a different coach than he was a few long years ago.

So on Saturday night that embrace meant far more than simply winning a game. It was another positive moment in a journey that has been full of more potholes than fireworks.

Chambers patted Taylor on the back. They released and each went their own ways. Chambers down the tunnel, Taylor towards the TV cameras.

"The coaches and the players have had long nights in the BJC." Taylor said following the game. Words that carry stories of their own from blowout losses to last second defeats. Penn State basketball's struggles would be easier for most to swallow if they were not accentuated by the kind of heartbreak that labels the most diehard fans as a collection of closeted masochists.

Simply put, being a part of Penn State basketball is a painful endeavor. Something those within the program know better than anyone else.

"It's just a great feeling that the hard work pays off," Taylor said with a smile. "We're excited for this win but we're not going to get too happy, we're going to get back together and try and string these together."

Taylor is something of a martyr for the cause. He is peaking in college with a team a year or two from being considerably better. If DJ Newbill was the bridge to Philadelphia, Taylor is acting as a transition leader between two eras in the program's history. In spite of knowing that this season was perhaps doomed to be a rebuilding year, Taylor proceeded to work as hard as he ever has this offseason. The results are evident on the court.

And yet the Nittany Lions sit at 12-12 and barring something unexpected Penn State will once again miss the postseason in spite of Taylor's individual heroics.

All of this is something not entirely lost on Chambers. On a night where he had 10 different players take shots against a Top 25 team, it's the long armed New Jersey native he finds himself perhaps the happiest for.

"He could have left after his freshman year, easily, definitely after his sophomore year," Chambers said. "In this generation that's unique, that's different that he stuck it out and wanted to be a part of this, wanted to be a part of the change. And the fact that he continued to develop and continues to come in and continue the culture where it is. It just says a lot about his character and his integrity and what he's all about and what he's made of. Nobody was happier than me for him"

The game itself was proof that Penn State doesn't have to look at success in the Big Ten as something simply hypothetical. The Nittany Lions led for 18:03 of the contest and matched one of the nation's best shooting teams shot for shot. In fact it was Penn State's often neglected defense that held Indiana to just 17 made baskets all night. 

In the first half it was the hot start that the Nittany Lions so often lack that helped the cause. 11 first half turnovers by Indiana coupled with Penn State's surprisingly balanced offensive attack led way to a 34-33 Hoosier lead at the break.

But Penn State staying in a game for a half is far from unusual. It's the full 40 minute performance that frequently alludes the Nittany Lions.

So as Jordan Dickerson slammed home the ball on the second half's opening possession it was a bit of a signal that Penn State would not go quietly into the night. In fact Indiana never led by more than four all half while Penn State pushed out to a six-point margin with 15:37 play.

From there it was boxing match. Each team threw punches, threes, layups and free throws on both ends of the court.

But each time it was Penn State landing the counter shot. A rarity for those always expecting to see their team's next shot fail to fall.

Not on Saturday though, on Saturday it was proof that things could get better than they have almost always been.

Taylor ended Saturday night with 24 points six rebounds and two steals. It was a three from deep with 3:17 to go in the game that were his final points of the night, giving penn State a 58-56 lead and another answer to a timely Indiana basket. Taylor's only assist coming moments later on a Payton Banks three to make it 61-58. Another answer to an Indiana score.

In truth one win will not change the world. Penn State faces a long season still ahead in an unforgiving conference. The Nittany Lions have beaten Top 25 teams before and the challenges have not gone away.

But for a player like Brandon Taylor, Saturday night was a return on his investment and affirmation that hard work does not go unrewarded.

And so the Nittany Lions march on, one day closer to a freshman class that will look to take the program to March and beyond.

If those freshman find themselves enjoying a new and improved Penn State basketball program, they'll have players like Brandon Taylor to thank for it.



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