Penn State, a three-point favorite against a talented, but limited Illinois, went to Champaign and completed a 22-point victory that showed just how far the Nittany Lions have come in the past month. Winners of five in the last six, the Nittany Lions were a second-half drought away from having beaten two ranked teams on the road, and winning six straight. People are starting to notice.
All of this week, you may have started to see of talk about what the Nittany Lions need to do to put themselves in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid —and you should, they’re playing well. You may have even started those discussions yourself —and you should, it’s exciting to root for a team in the tournament conversation this late.
One thing comes to mind as the prognostications fly at us from every direction, however. When Penn State was left for dead a few weeks ago, Pat Chambers reminded his players to take it one game at a time. There was no sense in looking into the future (or the past) when there was someone right in front of them, someone who deserved the same kind of attention that everyone else had gotten. It will serve the Nittany Lions well to remember that lesson, as Thursday night will be the biggest night of their season.
It’ll serve us, the fans, well too, as we may forget to enjoy the current journey the Nittany Lions are embarking in while trying to figure out what destination it will lead us to. Not since the 2008-09 season has Penn State been two games over .500 in Big Ten play at this point in the season. Before that, you’d have to travel back to Jerry Dunn’s first season as the Nittany Lions’ head coach to find a better winning percentage. That, in and of itself, exemplifies the rarity of the accomplishment, and what it really means for the team.
The conversation won’t just be about the positives though. You’ll hear about Penn State’s bad losses. You’ll hear that their wins have come against the bottom of the Big Ten. You’ll hear that, no matter how well they’re playing, their path to a tournament bid is still nearly impossible. On Thursday night, the Nittany Lions will not only show what the they can do for their future, but it will serve as an opportunity for the team to validate that their run is not a fluke. Forgetting that Penn State was up 12 with less than seven minutes remaining, people replay Tony Carr’s banked shot over and over against Ohio State. This gives the illusion that the Nittany Lions were lucky to even be in a position to win, and not that they controlled the game from start to finish. This will give credence to the belief that beating the bottom of the Big Ten, getting lucky against the top, and beating a team riddled with injuries is not something to be taken into consideration. All of it can be put to rest on Thursday night.
Thursday night is the biggest opportunity for the Nittany Lions because of the significance of the game, but also because it’s their next opportunity. But this is not their only opportunity. Win or lose against Ohio State, Penn State will have another opportunity on Sunday against Purdue. After that, they’ll have two more opportunities for wins. But what matters most is that, on Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern, Penn State will once again get to show everyone that their run is not a fluke. What lies in front of them right now is one thing and one thing only: The Ohio State Buckeyes.
Like the team, I’m enjoying each and every win as if it were the last one. Because, if I start thinking bout the future, I stop looking at what’s right in front of me. It would be a shame to stop enjoying myself in the now to look at what lies ahead or what could have been. Something tells me that the team is enjoying the wins now, and focusing on the next game, just as much as me.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.