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Penn State Basketball Shows What It Can Be In Win Over Michigan State

by on January 07, 2017 6:17 PM

PHILADELPHIA -- Through the fleeting crack in the door you could see a mob of players jumping around as coach Pat Chambers entered the modest locker room in the bowels of The Palestra on Saturday afternoon.

By the time the door closed the cheer was loud enough that you could still hear it though the wall. Whatever moments Chambers and his team had, they were shared with at least few other people filing out of the building.

But Chambers probably didn't mind.

Because Saturday was in many ways the summation of years of effort. Penn State beating a nationally recognized powerhouse in a straight-up, no controversy game. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it, no player shooting out of his mind, no foul trouble for the Spartans. Penn State just won. The better team won.

"I loved their grit," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the game. "I loved their athletic ability. I loved their toughness...We knew we were gonna come into a hornet's nest here. I'm so stupid; that's what I do every year - find somewhere to go to get my brains beat in."

And that's what was perhaps most impressive about Saturday's performance: the grit. Penn State was coming off of a heartbreaker against Michigan on the road. A team finding its way in the Big Ten for the first time could have folded, or in the very least still be looking in the mirror. But on multiple occasions as Michigan State pushed the Nittany Lions to the brink, each time Penn State came up with key rebounds, key baskets and key stops. There was no collapse, no eventual defeat at the hands of a better team finding a way to fend off a pesky opponent. No "here we go again" in the huddle. Penn State answered every punch with one of its own.

In those moments you saw the team that Pat Chambers has preached about becoming for years. Penn State didn't shoot well, but it won the loose ball battles. It didn't always look great but it outworked Michigan State. And when the Nittany Lions were making shots, they were doing it in bunches and from all over the court with plenty of athleticism. It was the staple of hard work coupled with increasing talent -- a difficult combination to beat.

The result isn't a program-changing win. So early in the season it's hard to say one victory will absolutely prevent future bad losses.

But Penn State isn't going to become the program it wants to be without wins like the one it got on Saturday. It was a reassurance that the ship is headed in the right direction, and more importantly for the players, confidence that the hard work is paying off.

"We were all hurt," Lamar Stevens said of the loss at Michigan. "A lot of us watched the film on the flight. We talked about it. But we realize you have to have quick memories in the Big Ten."

It has been that kind of wise-beyond-their-years maturity that has gotten Penn State to this point. Not that the Nittany Lions haven't made mistakes and picked up bizarre and unfortunate losses, but Penn State appears to be a team finally equipped not only with the mentality to keep looking ahead, but the players to make that mindset turn into positive results in the long run.

Chambers has often talked about becoming a Michigan State duplicate. Winning on the court and in the classroom with talented and skilled players. For the most part that notion has been digested by the media and fans as an ambitious pipe dream. Talk is easy, wins are hard.

But on Saturday it was Chambers getting the last laugh. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but it's clear that Penn State finally has the players, the grit and the skill.

And with a fairly impressive beating of Michigan State on Saturday in the city the program is currently built on, Chambers might not be so crazy after all.

So maybe there is work left to do, but as the cheers echoed through a packed Palestra, the light at the end of the tunnel might not be as far off as it seemed a few years ago.

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