As a lifelong Penn State basketball fan, I can tell you firsthand just how lonesome and frustrating of an experience it can be. Yes, the program does have a small and devoted group of followers such as myself, Chad, Eric, and your readers/commenters, just to name some, but If I had a dollar for every time someone questioned my decision-making skills in life (which I can't blame them for), I would resign from BSD immediately and spend my hard-earned cash on beachfront property somewhere in Hawaii. After all, who the hell in their right mind would devote themselves to following a program that has suffered through many difficult seasons and has only been to the NCAA tournament a whopping five times since The Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan show?
Since we're in the midst of the slowest few months for a college sports blog, I figured I would list important dates in PSU hoops history that have significant meaning to me. Your mileage will vary with these dates obviously, and I strongly encourage you to share other dates in PSU hoops history that have meaning to you in the comments section. I'm sure we can have some fun with this.
February 9, 1993
Bring up this exact date to any hardcore PSU hoops fan and they will know what you are referring to: The famed near-upset of a then #1 ranked Indiana team by an outmatched but scrappy bunch of Nittany Lions, ruined in large part by arguably the worst call in the history of basketball, and the whole nation got to watch it on ESPN. I've talked about this game before here and here, so I won't get too in-depth on this one.
This was actually the very first PSU hoops game I ever watched as a kid, baffled at the time as to why the school's basketball team could struggle so much when it's football team was so good. It's also safe to say, this was the game that planted the seeds of hoops fandom in my head. I can still picture my dad yelling at Sam Lickliter (the referee who made the horrendous call against Greg Bartram) through the TV to this day.
January 11, 1996
The first game ever at the Bryce Jordan Center was also my first time seeing a PSU hoops game live and in person (I know, blasphemy for somebody who reminisces about the Rec Hall glory days). With the program sporting an 11-0 record and ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in a long while, my dad decided to buy season tickets for the BJC and for a brief moment, it was a worthwhile investment. PSU opened up the brand spanking new building with a nationally-televised beating of Minnesota, led by a backcourt of Dan Earl and Pete Lisicky and a frontcourt of Matt Gaudio, Glenn Sekunda, and Calvin Booth, who would go on to sport its best performance ever in Big Ten play (12-6, good enough for second place) and earn the #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament that year.
Joe Paterno also had a cameo appearance in this game, which prompted ESPN cameras to cut to his reaction quite a bit throughout the contest, even simultaneously showing a box in the upper corner of the screen during the broadcast (starts around the 6:40 mark in the video above). It sure seemed like the program was headed in the right direction at the time and with a new arena to entice top-notch recruits, the sky was the limit...
March 18, 2001
A decade and a half later, I can still say with confidence this is the greatest win I've seen in all of my years of PSU hoops viewing (at least, until they beat Duke at the Mohegan Sun this November). This was a Tar Heels squad led by the likes of 7-foot future NBA center Brendan Haywood and a pair of future NFL players in Julius Peppers and Ronald Curry that had PSU outmatched on the height and athleticism front. Apparently Gyasi Cline-Heard didn't get the memo, coming up just one rebound shy of a double-double (19 points, 9 rebounds), nor did Joe Crispin and Titus Ivory, who put down 21 points each in a win that even I couldn't bring myself to pick in my bracket pool that year (I of course, had PSU winning its first round game against Providence because, come on...you can never pick your team to lose in the first round).
The sheer euphoria I felt that day was somewhat negated by the realiziation that this meant the embattled head coach Jerry Dunn would keep his job for the time being with a senior-laden group about to graduate and with no reinforcements on the way, recruiting-wise. The bottom was most certainly, about to fall out.
January 29, 2003
Penn State ended up losing by a couple of points at the end to Minnesota after leading for a good chunk of the game in what would end up being one of the final nails in Jerry Dunn's head coaching coffin (in which PSU would ultimately finish with back-to-back 7-win seasons following the Sweet 16 appearance in 2001). What makes this particular day memorable though, is that a couple of friends and I went to this game with bags that we intended to wear over our heads during the game but didn't actually end up breaking them out until the final seconds when it was clear Minnesota was going to eke out a win. The real highlight of this game actually came in the form of a FIRE DUNN sign being passed around the student section in a game of keep away with the BJC usher attempting to confiscate it.
February 4, 2006
It's crazy to think that this year marks the 10-year anniversary of Penn State's improbable upset over a Top 10 ranked Illinois squad that was coming off an appearance in the NCAA title game just the year before. I can still recall watching the first ten minutes of this game, seeing Illinois race out to a double-digit lead and thinking, "Welp, this one's over" then heading out the Phyrst to meet up with friends. Fast-forward to a couple hours later in a drunken haze, I noticed one of the TV's showing a different basketball game before cutting into highlights from the Penn State-Illinois game, which showed Travis Parker's incredible rebound and go-ahead put back of Mike Walker's missed three-pointer, followed by Illinois' subsequent buzzer-beating three that was later waived off by the officials upon viewing the replay monitors and seeing the PSU players going wild at mid-court after learning they had won. It turned out this would be the first of many times PSU would get the better of Bruce Weber's Illinois teams...
March 5, 2009
Many of you BSD readers think of this game as the one where Eric nearly killed Talor Battle (starts around the 1:22 mark of this video), which Eric still maintains to this day, isn't his fault. I was lucky enough to not only attend this game in person, but also sitting in the first row right above the student section. My friend and I decided to climb over the railing separating the student section from everyone else right after Battle's shot went down so we could storm the court. Not only was I finally able to cross off 'storm a basketball court' from my bucket list after that night but I could also appreciate just how chaotic things can get when a court-storming occurs. I'm pretty sure I patted half of the players on the back as they way trying to mosey their way through the maze of fans back to the locker room. It was a win that most of us felt was going to be the one to get PSU into the NCAA tournament that year but then in typical PSU hoops fashion, the team went on to lose its final regular season game against a terrible Iowa team before failing to win enough games in the Big Ten tournament to get relegated to the NIT.
March 11, 2011 and March 12, 2011
The 36-33 victory over Wisconsin that set basketball back about 50 years combined with the subsequent defeat of Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals the next day helped clinch a bid to the Big Dance for the first time since 2001. After suffering through a decade of hopeless 7-win seasons and close-but-no-cigar NIT seasons, it finally felt like all of that suffering was truly worth it. Yes, the team would go on to lose a heartbreaker to Temple in the first round, but PSU hoops fans probably got the best of both worlds in seeing their team make the NCAA tournament but also see an embattled Ed DeChellis, who was squarely on the hot seat going into the season bolt for Navy, which opened to the door for one Mr. Patrick Chambers to take over the program. Needless to say, many of us were intrigued with Pat's Philly background and salesman-like recruiting abilities and were hopeful that he might finally be the one who could get PSU hoops to make inroads into the long sought-after but eternally unattainable Philly recruiting scene. It wouldn't be an overnight fix and would require plenty of patience but eventually it would pay off...
November 11, 2015
Veterans' Day, National Signing Day, Roman Catholic Trio Day, whatever you want to call it, I hope to say a few years from now that this was the date where the seeds of Penn State basketball's rise to becoming a consistently winning program and attractive option for top-notch recruits from Philly were planted (please, based hoops gods).