Penn State won a crucial road game on Sunday night in Illinois, defeating the Illini 74-52 behind a balanced scoring effort and some tenacious second-half defense. With just four games left in the regular season, the Nittany Lions have a chance to finish above .500 in Big Ten play and put themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation for the first time in the Pat Chambers era.
That’s a big deal for a program that hasn’t gone dancing since 2011 and that looked so hopeless after losing to Rider in late December. Penn State’s social media channels have made it clear that this Thursday’s home game against Ohio State is the biggest game that the Bryce Jordan Center has hosted in a long time. If the Lions can pull off a second-straight upset of the Buckeyes, they’ll launch themselves on the national radar and force fans all over the country to at least entertain the idea of an NCAA Tournament bid. But is that enough to get fans to show up at the BJC on Thursday?
Attendance at the Jordan Center this season peaked on January 27 when Penn State played Rutgers in its annual THON game. Even against an opponent that doesn’t light up the marquee, more than 13,000 fans showed up to cheer on Penn State and support a great cause. It seems that THON was the main draw for a big chunk of the audience, though, because the next Saturday against Iowa, only 10,000 fans came to the BJC. Then, last Wednesday in a “rivalry” game against Maryland, the Lions drew just 8,000 fans.
We can excuse local fans for their absence due to icy driving conditions, but on the other hand, you’d like more students to show up on an evening when Penn State made admission free and gave away food to those who were willing to walk over from campus.
No matter the reason, there’s even more for casual supporters to be excited about on Thursday. Penn State has won three games in a row, the Buckeyes are always a popular opponent, and the stakes for this team haven’t been higher in years.
Shaming fans for attendance issues is always silly and misguided, but I will say that the upcoming Ohio State game has a chance to be a very special moment for Penn State’s basketball program. Win or lose, it ought to be a fun atmosphere in an arena that isn’t known for getting rowdy. Even if – especially if – you haven’t been to a game all year, it isn’t too late to jump on the bandwagon. I’ve seen Penn State get behind its hoops squad before, so I’m optimistic for a wild and memorable night in the Bryce Jordan Center this week.
Plus, everyone will be wearing white in a big, late-season game against Ohio State. Just think of it like a football game, minus the hand-warmers!