Penn State Basketball: Attitude Pays Off, Nittany Lions Break Through for Unprecedented Upset
Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.-John Wooden
Penn State men’s basketball players bring a banner to every game, every practice, and every walk through no matter whether it is home or away. Sticky notes can be found on lockers in unfamiliar gyms, a reminder of how much of a role one's mind can play in the process of winning or losing. Shirts are worn with a single word message stitched on to their front.
Much like the fabric of the shirt, attitude has been the intertwining thread that has held the program together and given it meaning through a trying 14 game losing streak. With an injured leader, an overmatched roster on almost any given night, and plenty of reasons to quit, the Nittany Lions haven’t. They've plowed ahead, playing like they expect to win and improving each game knowing that sooner or later the hard work would pay off.
Wednesday night, in the most improbable of settings it finally did.
Facing the No. 4 ranked Michigan Wolverines it appeared that a 0-15 record in conference play was at the very least a safe bet. But for those around the Penn State program the unexpected was within the realm of possibilities. The Nittany Lions felt as if they had steadied the ship and while there weren't any wins to show for it, it seemed to be only a matter of time.
The upset was a collective effort, a master class in team basketball and outhustling your opponent with a dose of luck and good fortune sprinkled in.
It took three players with 15 or more points, six players with five or more points, a double-double by Ross Travis, nine steals, and 15 assists to pull it off. The Nittany Lions battled back from 15 down with 10 minutes to go, and closed out a game when it mattered most to complete the most unlikely of upsets. Just days shy of the four year anniversary of Talor Battle's last second defeat of Illinois, it was an effort the Nittany Lion great would have been proud of.
Games like the one played in front of 8,892 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center show up on the Disney Channel far more often than they materialize in real life. Heading in to Wednesday’s contest, Penn State had knocked off a Top 4 ranked team only three times in 35 attempts.
“Words cannot express how I feel right now,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said following the game. “These kids come with a great approach. We were on a 14 game losing streak and they still came with a great approach. They didn’t lose the fight or the fire, and I knew we were going to win one down the line. What a great night to do it on senior night. They will never forget that for as long as they live. They have earned it by going above and beyond.”
For Penn State the victory brings a sense of validation. The early morning practices, the sweat, were now worth something. It must surely give sophomore guard DJ Newbill a feeling of relief.
He would never admit it -- a team first player -- but from the loss of his mother this offseason, to carrying the team on his back almost every night, Newbill has endured trials and tribulations that would test even the most hardened men. Wednesday night’s victory is a weight off his shoulders.
“It feels really good,” Newbill said. “To be oh-and-whatever we are and to come out and never give up. Our team never held our heads, we kept fighting we kept pressing. We believed in our foundation and it finally paid off.”
“All year we have believed that we could get it done. We were short a couple of times. Tonight was just a relief for all of the hard work. All the film sessions, gym sessions, coming in to work out by ourselves paid off for us.
As the Nittany Lions move forward the journey won’t get any easier, but the route may seem more passable. Road contests with Minnesota and Northwestern could yield at least one victory. The regular season finale against Wisconsin in State College provides Penn State with a matchup against one of the slower tempo teams in the nation.
It appears the program will continue to head in a positive direction. Chambers is coaching and leading brilliantly through what is in all likelihood the toughest stretch of his young career. While a 1-14 conference record may lend itself to skepticism, the tale of how the team got from 0-14 to its first conference win tells a different story, that the compass is pointing in the right direction.
With a multitude of talent coming in to Happy Valley next year along with the anticipated return of Tim Frazier, The Nittany Lions are poised to take the next step forward.
“Like Winston Churchill said,” Chambers quoted. “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up.”