Entering this week’s Big Ten Tournament, Penn State found themselves in most bracket projections to be amongst the “Last Four In” for the NCAA Tournament and needing to at least beat Illinois in their first game in order to avoid sweating it out for the next few days leading into Selection Sunday. Continuing their hot play from the end of the regular season, where the team had won five of their last six games, PSU not only left themselves no longer sweating things out, but left themselves just one win away from doing what just a couple short weeks ago seemed improbable: Win the B1G Tournament for the first time in program history.
The Nittany Lions came out of the gate swinging, opening with a pair of made jumpers by Jalen Pickett and Cam Wynter to go up 4-0 early in the game’s first two minutes. PSU’s shooting flash-froze after those back-to-back buckets however, as they would only make one of their next 11 attempts from the floor, a layup from Andrew Funk. Purdue meanwhile, while not exactly lighting it up offensively, still managed to put the ball through the hoop with who else, but Zach Edey leading the way, as the Boilermakers went on a 15-2 run over a nine-minute span to go up by as much as nine.
Despite playing their fourth game in as many days, the Lions managed to find their shooting touch on tired legs, with Cam Wynter hitting a jumper, followed by Myles Dread nailing back-to-back shots from downtown to cut the deficit back to one possession. Purdue however, would counterpunch right back with David Jenkins nailing a trey, followed by Mason Gillis (of 29 points off the bench against PSU fame) hitting a jumper, followed by Fletcher Loyer nailing a well-guarded trey as the shot clock expired to put Purdue back up nine again.
The two teams would mostly trade buckets for the remainder of the half, but with 1:38 left in the half and PSU trailing by only five, Jenkins nailed another trey, followed by Edey getting another bucket to put Purdue up double digits. Pickett would get a layup to make it a single-digit deficit of 35-27 at the half.
The second half saw Gillis nail a triple to put Purdue back up double digits, but the Lions would claw their way back to get it to a five-point game about four-and-a-half minutes in. Once again however, PSU entered another patented lengthy scoring drought over the next five minutes, which Purdue was more than happy to take advantage of, going on a 9-0 run to push their lead up to 14 midway through the second half, before Seth Lundy quelled the bleeding with a trey. Unfortunately for PSU, those tired legs finally began to really show, as the shots just weren’t falling with the necessary frequency to keep pace with Purdue. Meanwhile, the Boilers were able to build their lead to as high as 17 with six-and-a-half minutes to go.
However, the Lions weren’t quite finished yet, as a Jalen Pickett “and-one” play helped spark an 13-2 PSU run over the next 3:30 to cut the deficit back down to six and make things intriguing once again. With 2:53 left, Lundy was fouled and went to the line to shoot a one-in-one, but missed the front end and subsequently picked up his fifth foul to foul out of the game, in what seemed like a huge blow to the team’s improbable comeback hopes...
Evan Mahaffey however, had other plans, throwing down a dunk, followed by Pickett drawing a foul and making both free throws to cut it to a four-point deficit with 1:55 remaining. Purdue would go to their reliable crunch-time well in Edey, who despite being triple-teamed down low, made an easy baby hook off the glass to put the Boilers back up six. Dread would nail a trey to cut it to a three-point game with 17 seconds left and Mahaffey would steal the subsequent in-bounds pass, feeding the rock to Wynter, who layed it in to make it a one-point game with 11 seconds left, leaving the majority Purdue fans in attendance in stunned silence.
Purdue’s Fletcher Loyer, who had previously missed a pair of free throws, made his first one, but bricked the second, which PSU rebounded and eventually called timeout with 3.3 seconds left to allow Micah Shrewsberry to draw up one final game-winning three-point attempt. Cam Wynter received the in-bounds pass, but never got the shot off, as he was called for traveling with half-a-second remaining. It was a valiant effort from PSU, but one that ultimately fell short. Nonetheless, today capped off what has been one of the most incredible runs in program history, as we now await what seeding and which region PSU ends up in.
Player of the Game - Seth Lundy (19 points, 3-for-5 3 PT FG, 8 rebounds)
Seth was one of three Nittany Lions to reach double figures (Wynter had 14 and Pickett had 11) and seemed to step up with big time shot after big time shot, whenever PSU seemed to be down and out for the count. For that, he’s your POTG.
Take a Bow, Shrews Crew - Remember how we all had written this team off a couple weeks ago following the epic choke job against Rutgers? All the credit in the world to the coaching staff and players for not throwing in the towel and continuing to fight and claw their way towards what has been an absolutely magical run (which certainly isn’t finished yet!).
PAY THE MAN - In only his second year at the helm, Micah Shrewsberry has accomplished something that took nine years for Pat Chambers to do (before COVID shut it down), and took eight years for Ed DeChellis before him to accomplish. I have no doubt that President Bendapudi and AD Kraft are working hell behind the scenes to secure Shrews’ services for the long-term but this is a PSA to write Shrews a blank check for whatever the fresh hell he needs (salary, assistant pool, recruiting resources, facilities, NIL, etc.). It’s absolutely necessary if we want to enjoy moments like these on a regular basis.
About ten minutes from now (as this is being typed), we will find out who Penn State will play and where they will be playing for their first round game in the NCAA Tournament. In the meantime, let’s celebrate and enjoy the fact that a 12-year drought is about to officially come to a close!