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The Importance Of Defeating Michigan

It’s time for the Lions to stand up to the Wolverines and put a string of losses on their blue and yellow-bellied uniforms.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Penn State William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

As you likely remember, Penn State and Michigan squared off in Madison Square Garden on Jan 30. The Big Ten Super Saturday featured a noon match-up of the basketball teams inside the historic arena. The hockey teams then took to the ice later that evening. It was an event that would ultimately see Penn State on the losing side of each contest. The day was not a complete loss, however. It showcased the rising Penn State hockey and basketball programs in the largest media market in Big Ten territory.

The day’s events in New York were a spectacle for the fans and players of the teams to enjoy. Outside the stadium before the game there was a sea of Penn State and Michigan apparel that could be seen in all directions. The combined team colors; maize, blue, a better shade of blue and white all commingled nicely. The fans of each side complimented one another as well, setting aside loyalties to share the experience with those wearing opposing colors.

Many of the fans attending were there to enjoy the atmosphere, and also had hopes of a good competition. It was a day where the fans intended to walk away satisfied, whether their team won or not.

In retrospect Michigan basketball turned out to be a very solid group. It finished with a 23-13 record and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. John Beilein’s team lost to future Big Ten hockey member (2017) Notre Dame in Brooklyn to end its season.

The Michigan hockey team was ranked in the top-five for most of the year and there was little doubt of their talent. After ending the Lion’s season in the second round on the way to winning the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines defeated Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In the second round North Dakota, the eventual national champion, sent Michigan home with a solid 5-2 victory. The maize and blue could have easily won the game and went on to the championship.

The pair of losses will not be remembered as disappointing or opportunity-stripping for the two Penn State programs. A win could have opened doors later in the season. The basketball team finished with a respectable 16-16 record, 7-11 in B1G play. The hockey team defied all preseason expectations with a school-record 21 wins and remained in the hunt for an NCAA tournament at-large invite until the final week of the season.

Each program finished a couple of wins shy of being in consideration for post-season play. Today we will look at the losses in Madison Square Garden to understand why it will be important to degrade and defeat the Wolverine teams in the coming season.

Mid-Day Tip-off In New York On The Hardwood

The game started with Penn State having the initial edge, scoring the first 7 points. Josh Reaves made a nice denial on defense that led to his eventual follow-up dunk on a Brandon Taylor miss. With twelve minutes left in the first half, the Wolverines clawed back to a 13-13 tie.

From there the vibe inside of Madison Square Garden went in favor of the Wolverines. Each fan base traveled in impressive numbers to the world’s most famous arena, but the play of Michigan tipped the noise factor to its advantage.

Like a boa constrictor looking to slowly submit its prey, the Wolverines methodically squeezed each Penn State missed basket into two points on their end. By the end of the half, the score was 38-26 in favor of Michigan.

At half-time the fans descended into the innards of MSG and for the moment forgot about the game and thought more about the experience of watching the two teams play a regular-season game in such a venue. Fans from each team had smiles on their faces. Of course Penn State supporters would have preferred to be in a better position. The change of scenery from the stands, down twelve, to the concession stand with the prospects of downing twelve cold ounces, turned the atmosphere to positive for many attendees.

The second half saw the lead meander from a dozen points to under ten briefly, back to a dozen, and then peaked with a 17-point Michigan advantage with 9:46 left to play in the game. The Lions went on a run at that point, featuring exceptional play by Davis Zemgulis, Julian Moore, Payton Banks, and Shep Garner. The four underclassmen provided a spark that cut the Michigan lead to 64-59 with 4:49 left to play.

The game was far from over. The Wolverines had dominated the majority of the game, and as a result the fans inside the stadium cheering for the team had been the loudest. This all changed when Penn State got back in the game. MSG became a home court for Pat Chambers’ squad.

The moment was fleeting but for roughly five minutes or so, Madison Square Garden was alive with Nittany Lion emotions and cheers. Some would say that it is a defeatist stance to feel that this made the day worthwhile. For those who were there, and felt the energy inside the stadium, it was an experience that has been rare for the Penn State basketball team in recent years.

The Wolverines then took control of the game, allowing the Lions to cut the lead to 6 a couple of times during the foul-shooting contest portion at the end to the game.

Since 2010 the Michigan basketball team has won eight out of nine games with the Nittany Lions. It’s time that changes. It has to change. This year will be a tough challenge, the teams will only meet once in the regular season, in Ann Arbor. In the coming years it will be important for the Lions to become more competitive with the Wolverines. The game at Madison Square Garden was a loss on the scoreboard, but the younger players who will mean a great deal to the program in the coming years benefited greatly from the experience.

Hockey Face-Off At 7 p.m.

The hockey game had a similar feel. Many fans that attended the basketball game also were at the night cap. Some fans that began drinking for the noon hoops match hadn’t taken a break in the seven hours since the opening jump ball, and they were not in an overall perfect state of mind. Hockey has rowdy fans, so there was no uncomfortable feeling. The tipsy fans blended in with the others who were drunk with enthusiasm.

The game started with each team skating furiously from end to end. Both teams took a penalty four minutes into the game just forty seconds apart. The play with eight skaters instead of ten on the ice made for a fast, invigorating experience for the fans, who were yet to settle down from the start of the game.

After the penalties expired, the teams played even for ten minutes until Michigan got on the board first. With just 41 seconds left in the opening period, David Goodwin tied the game for Penn State. To this point, the fans took to the concession stands and had an upbeat feel on each side.

Michigan scored fifteen seconds into the 2nd period to take a 2-1 lead. The collective gasp from Penn State fans, who were fearing an unstoppable onslaught from one of the nation’s leading offenses, thinned the oxygen inside the stadium to dangerously low levels. The fans in the upper deck were most effected.

Five minutes later the Zombie Nation celebration was abound inside Madison Square Garden as goals by Andrew Sturtz and Ricky DeRosa gave Penn State a 3-2 lead with fifteen minutes left to play in the second period. The period would end with the score remaining in Penn State’s favor.

The intermission between the second and third periods was the pinnacle of enjoyment for Penn State fans. Once the puck dropped for the third period, the Wolverines took control of the game. Michigan scored early and often in the final period, netting four unanswered goals, ushering many Penn State fans out of the gates prior to the final whistle.

Michigan Is Penn State’s B1G Hockey Rival

The loss at MSG itself did not doom the team’s chances of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, but a win would have gotten the team just one more win away from being on the bubble. The Lions lost the final two games of the regular-season to Michigan with a combined score of 13-2. Then the maize and blue officially ended the Lion’s season in the Big Ten tournament with a dominating 7-2 performance in the second-round. Penn State went 0-5 against Michigan last season. That’s just plain evil.

The empire created in Ann Arbor by legendary coach Red Berenson must not be allowed to proliferate further. Penn State must win the frozen war against Red’s army if it wants to continue to progress in the B1G. The Lions will begin and end the conference season with Michigan this year. It has become a rivalry in the few years that the teams have been playing. While the Wolverines dominated Penn State last season, recent years were tipped in the Lion’s favor.

In the first year of Big Ten hockey, 2013-14, Penn State shocked Michigan with three wins in five games. The Lion’s were not expected to win very many conference games that year but it won three, two coming versus Michigan. Two regular-season wins against the Wolverines broke up what otherwise would have been a 19 consecutive winless streak. Penn State then knocked Michigan out of the Big Ten tournament, and out of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, to end its season. It was devastating for the team from Ann Arbor and its fan base. It was the first time in 21 years that the Red Baron’s team failed to reach the NCAA tournament. It was impossible for Wolverine fans not to notice the death blow of the Big Ten tournament loss, and the two regular-season losses to the fledgling Lions. It was on like Donkey Kong. Penn State took what had always been Michigan’s.

The following year the Lions continued the dominance with a 3-1 record while playing Michigan. That’s good for a 6-3 advantage prior to last year’s 0-5. You could argue that Michigan got the worst of the past three season’s battles even though they hold the advantage by a couple of games.

The Big Ten has scheduled Michigan and Penn State for the past two seasons as though they are rivals, with a season-ending series between them, and rightfully so. This year the teams will play four regular season games, the first and last two in B1G play. The team that wins the majority of the games will likely be a contender for post-season play. It is imperative that the Lions pounce on the Wolverines, reigniting the rivalry.