If you were clicking on this article, expecting another longform reminiscing session about the glory days of Rec Hall, well...so sorry to disappoint. Yes, I have my own memories of watching PSU hoops at Rec Hall, albeit they were only on television (presuming that seeing the Lady Lions shellack Nebraska at Rec Hall doesn't count for this article's purpose). In fact, the first men's hoops game I actually attended in person was opening night at the BJC.
Thanks to some quick research via the Collegian's online archives, Google, and my own personal memory banks however, I have compiled a (very short) listing of some of the more legendary contests Rec Hall has beared witness to. Feel free to add other great moments that I most certainly did not include in the comments section below.
December 5, 1973
Penn State played host to Virginia in a game that is credited for having the largest attendance in Rec Hall history. Approximately 8600 fans packed the gym (and violated numerous fire codes - more on that in a bit) in order to see John Cappelletti, fresh off a trip to New York to accept the Heisman Trophy, address the crowd before tipoff. Oh, and they also saw the hoop stars deliver a 93-68 pounding of the Cavaliers courtesy of future Boston Celtic Ron Brown, who led PSU with 36 points (which is even more impressive when you consider the fact there was no three-point line back then). Three other Nittany Lions scored in double figures, including forward Randy Meister's impressive double-double of 17 points and 16 boards. PSU held an astonishing 56-27 rebounding advantage in this contest and shot 56% from the floor.
The reason why this game still remains the highest-attended ever at Rec Hall, is because then-athletic business manager (and former PSU quarterback) Richie Lucas got on the mic at halftime to announce that PSU was about 1400 people over the acceptable fire code limit. #SafetyFirst
March 7, 1991
A capacity crowd of 7,130 (because fire codes were being enforced by then) stormed the court shortly after the final buzzer, in which Penn State clinched its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1965 after defeating George Washington 81-75, in the Atlantic 10 tournament final to earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA's. PSU's burly 6'7" 250-pound forward James Barnes, led the way by scoring 22 points (including a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line) and outmuscling every poor GW soul who dared to cross his path in the paint. Teammate Freddie Barnes also pitched in with 18 points and six assists. This would be PSU's final game at Rec Hall as a member of the A-10, as they would play as an Independent the following season before joining the Big Ten.
This notable post-game quote from then-GW head coach Mike Jarvis sums up James Barnes' performance that night (via The Baltimore Sun)
"It was tough to go around a mountain," said Colonials coach Mike Jarvis. "Barnes was in charge. I told my assistants to go out and get me someone half as big and half as good as he is."
February 9, 1993
You can't do a 'greatest games in Rec Hall history' post without mentioning the double-overtime heartbreaker against then top-ranked Indiana on that February evening in 1993 when the whole country saw PSU get royally jobbed out of one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history by the refs on ESPN. In fact, when discussing with anyone longtime PSU hoops fan about the Rec Hall days, this is almost always the first game that gets brought up, which is a perfect metaphor of Penn State basketball's illustrious history (close, but no cigar). This is the first game I can recall watching as a naive little boy growing up in State College, who believed that having a winning football program meant that PSU had to be awesome at all other sports. It was also the game that got me permanently hooked on PSU hoops.
On paper, this game should have been over before halftime as the Hoosiers, who just a couple weeks earlier, had shellacked PSU 105-57 in Bloomington (in perhaps the most 'Welcome to the Big Ten' beating ever) were rolling into Happy Valley with a #1 ranking and were led by the likes of future NBA players Calbert Cheaney and Alan Henderson. Bruce Parkhill's ragtag group of Nittany Lions of course, had other plans. With 30 seconds to play and clinging to a one-point advantage, PSU's Michael Jennings stole the ball near mid-court and laid it in on the other end as he was fouled. Jennings converted the free throw to put PSU up by four, 68-64. Indiana would get a quick basket to cut the PSU lead to 68-66 with about 20 seconds remaining.
This was followed by the infamous foul call on PSU's Greg Bartram who seemingly had himself an and-one layup off the in-bounds pass after freeing himself from an Indiana player who was clearly grabbing Bartram's jersey. It was arguably one of the worst calls in basketball history, one that prompted Bruce Parkhill to go irate on the officials to the point where he had to be restrained by his assistants (the full-head-of-haired Jerry Dunn and Ed DeChellis). Indiana would go on to force overtime before ultimately outlasting PSU in the second overtime, 88-84. Hearts were most certainly broken that night in one of the cruelest ways imaginable. In his postgame press conference, then-IU coach Bob Knight, who before the game had complained about how traveling to State College was equivalent to that of a camping trip, admitted that Penn State deserved to win the game.
By the way, our guest columnist Ryan Jones has a great write-up on this game via the Penn Stater magazine blog (replete with video).
March 15, 1995
Penn State had posted its first winning overall record as a member of the Big Ten and for that, they were rewarded with an NIT bid and home court advantage for their first round game against Miami (FL). That 'advantage' sure didn't seem to help much for most of the contest, as Miami seemingly controlled the game, leading 33-20 at halftime and building up to a 48-28 lead with about 14 minutes remaining in the contest. It was from there however, that a cold-shooting PSU team, led by Pete Lisicky and Dan Earl in the backcourt, and John Amaechi up front, suddenly caught fire just as Miami started to go stone-cold (the 'Canes only hit 3 of their final 21 shots in those final 14 minutes) and began to pull off one of the greatest rallies in PSU hoops history. The final result was a 62-56 victory that would propel PSU to advance all the way to the NIT's Final Four in New York's Madison Square Garden, where they would end up winning the third-place game.
Much like the other great moments mentioned in this post, the crowd noise became deafening once PSU fans sensed the rally was on. This postgame quote from John Amaechi says it all (via The Morning Call)
"This was one of the loudest I've heard in a long time," said Amaechi, the 6-foot-10 graduate student and first-team All Big Ten Conference pick. "My ears were ringing so much in the huddle one time I had to ask Danny (Earl) what play we were running."