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Penn State Blows Golden Opportunity

The Nittany Lions blew a 19-point lead en route to their 12th loss of the season.

Feb 26, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Aundre Hyatt (5) celebrates following the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryce Jordan Center. Rutgers defeated Penn State 59-56. Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

First, an apology. With bedtime coinciding with the game, and this particular bedtime leading to a later sleep time than usual, there was no time to release your usual recap in a timely fashion. And, of course, with the hustle and bustle of getting three boys to their respective schools in the morning, then going to your meetings and tending to your other work responsibilities, you don’t get much about the game until nearly a full day later.

I could have chosen to write the bulk of the recap last night. “A game neither team could afford to lose. Solidifying their NCAA tournament aspirations. Earned pride in a budding rivalry.” These are all things I could have written regardless of outcome, and still released an article coherent enough that minimal editing effort would have sufficed.

Instead, thinking that the article would write itself, I decided to not worry about it. That about describes what happened last night with the Nittany Lions. Up 19 points in the early portion of the second half, the Nittany Lions went into “don’t worry about it” mode, as they have all season long when nursing a lead that large, and, almost unsurprisingly, the lead whittled and whittled and whittled until it was no longer there.

In previous instances, the Lions have found ways to either regain the lead or stop the bleeding with time left on the clock. But against Rutgers, there simply wasn’t enough time left to make up for massive deficiency that turned a 19-point advantage to a 3-point loss.

One would be inclined to bemoan the existence of the team, the program, and one’s fandom of the sport. After all, to be a Penn State basketball fan is to know true suffering. But let me use the very team that delivered this excruciating blow: The Rutgers that beat up on No. 1 Purdue in back to back seasons has not always been the one Steve Pikiell fielded on the floor. This very program spent three anguish-inducing seasons trying to establish themselves as something other than a laughing stock before they broke through.

In contrast, the anguish Penn State fans are feeling right now, in year two, is far and away a better sign of progress than that of second-year Pikiell, or second-year Chambers, DeChellis, or even Parkhill, for that matter. In year two, Penn State fans have not accepted the defeat of a rebuild. Instead, they are feeling the pain of a potential tournament bid slipped away. But that pain doesn’t come without the promise. Because, in order for something to slip away, it had to be within your grasp in the first place.

The Nittany Lions will finish out their season in the next week, as they travel to Northwestern on Wednesday and host Maryland on Sunday. With their margin of error gone, Penn State will need to win both games, and maybe another in the Big Ten Tournament, before they can hear their named called on Selection Sunday. And the fact that, somehow someway, that is still possible, is a real sign of progress.

The more it hurts today, the greater the elation will be when it finally happens.