After being written off following the absolute choke job against Rutgers, the Nittany Lions returned to the Bryce Jordan Center squarely back in the NCAA Tournament picture after pulling off a stunning upset on the road at Northwestern. Win today against Maryland on Senior Day, and the Lions would likely only need to win their first game in this upcoming week’s Big Ten Tournament in order to punch their ticket to March Madness. No pressure, fellas...
For the first 35 minutes it sure looked like the team was going to succumb to said pressure: Although they jumped out to an early 10-4 lead, PSU proceeded to follow that up with a combination of nine first half turnovers, porous defense (a Maryland team not known for being the best three-point shooting team, went 7-for-17 from downtown in the first half and were able to get their share of points in the paint) and the inability of anyone other than Pickett to shoot on a consistent basis, which allowed the Terps to go on a pair of huge runs as PSU went on scoring droughts of over four and eight minutes. Maryland led by as many as 16 in the half before Pickett nailed a prayer of a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the deficit to 13 going into the locker room.
The second half didn’t seem much different, as every time PSU would make a couple shots to get the deficit low enough to get the crowd back into it, Maryland would respond with a big shot to silence the crowd. It look like the same bad movie we had all seen before, with PSU once again crapping the bed when they had everything to play for, a time-honored tradition spanning numerous coaching staffs and players.
There’s only one thing however, that maybe we all looked past: This team has absolutely no quit in them. Trailing 59-48 with a little over five minutes to play in the game, Myles Dread, Seth Lundy, and Andrew Funk proceeded to take matters into their own hands, nailing some clutch shots and free throws to gradually whittle away at the deficit. Cam Wynter put in a layup with 43 seconds left to give PSU a 63-62 lead, its first lead since early in the first half. Maryland would respond coming out of a timeout though, as their big man Julian Reese layed it in to put Maryland back up one with 19 seconds to go.
The final possession for PSU was one that we may be looking back upon for years to come: Pickett dribbled around looking to either be able to take it to the hoop, or find a wide-open teammate for a game-winning shot. Eventually, Lundy had to launch one from the top of the key that missed, but lo and behold, Cam Wynter was there to grab the offensive rebound and lay it in with 0.5 seconds left. PSU intercepted the full-court pass to seal the win and incredible comeback victory over the 21st-ranked Terps.
Player of the Game - Myles Dread (11 points, 3-for-7 3 PT FG, 4 rebounds, 3 assists)
Yes, Jalen Pickett led the team statistically (16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals), but on Senior Day it was guys like Myles Dread, who had been rather quiet from a scoring perspective in the past few weeks, stepping up and hitting some big-time shots. Myles could barely hold himself together emotionally in his post-game interview on BTN afterwards and I can’t blame him one bit. What a way to end your five years in Happy Valley!
- The “Curse of the BJC” is Real - Maryland came into today’s game having lost their previous five contests at Penn State. It sure looked like that was going to come to an end for most of the game today, but after this game, it’s safe to say that the curse of the BJC has taken on a whole new status for Maryland hoops.
- Reverse Rutgers? - As awful as PSU fans all felt a week ago following the Rutgers debacle, the feeling has to be equally as euphoric after this game. Crazy how in the span of just one week, we’ve seen this squad on both sides of an incredible comeback. I guess that’s the Penn State Basketball Experience in a nutshell, though.
- Party Like It’s 2011? - Penn State is now 5-6 in NCAA NET Quad 1 games. The NCAA Tournament selection committee looks highest upon Quad 1 wins over any others, so the more you can accumulate, the better. For a team that is on the bubble, no amount of words can emphasize how critical that game-winner from Cam was. It might even have been enough to put them in the Big Dance without needing anything in the Big Ten Tournament but just to put any doubt rest, please go ahead and at least win on Thursday, fellas?
Penn State (19-12, 10-10) has sealed up the No. 10 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will get a first round bye, playing their first game on Thursday for the second round against an opponent yet to be determined. We will know at the conclusion of the remainder of today’s games who that opponent will be.