A true Penn State basketball has seen this game before. In fact, we saw it play out last week. The Nittany Lions, oftentimes the lesser talented team on the court, plays well beyond their means and grabs a lead against a better opponent. They fight tooth and nail, but, ultimately, the more talented, experienced, you name it, opponent finds a way to come out with a victory. History was about to repeat itself on Wednesday, as they Nittany Lions did their absolute best to stave off a furious Wisconsin comeback effort in the second half. Those of us who have seen this movie before were ready to have our hearts ripped out.
The game started incredibly well for the Nittany Lions. Wisconsin, a team that lives off their three-point shooting, could not find the bottom of the net from beyond the arc. The Lions, on the other hand, could shoot from the logo and it would go in. They used their hot shooting to build a 12-point lead in the first half. The Badgers found a bit of rhythm of their own, and ultimately cut the lead all the way down to four, but, like Thanos, it came at a cost. Max Klesmitt, one of Wisconsin’s most important defenders, had to go to the bench two minutes into the game with foul trouble —his absense being integral in Penn State’s early lead.
The second half has the tape we’re all accustomed to seeing. Wisconsin started making their three point shots. Suddenly it was Penn State getting called for all the fouls. Little by little, Wisconsin started to tie the game a couple of times. They eventually even got the lead. But the part of the tape that was unusually different is that, unlike the game against Northwestern, the Lions never went cold. There was no stretch where the offense played disjointed. There was no confusion in the faces of the players. They knew the game plan, and they executed it to perfection. So, as the Badgers tried and tried to take over the game, Ace Baldwin, Kanye Clary, and the rest of the gang, never let them.
There’s a faction of the fanbase who mourns the exit of Penn State’s previous head coach. I counted myself among those folks. There’s a faction, even, that was skeptical about whether Mike Rhoades could really achieve the level of success Micah Shrewsberry enjoyed in such a short time frame. For the first time this season, I can see how the success will come. For the first time in Penn State’s entire history in Big Ten play, an incoming coach has beaten a top 15 team in fewer than 10 conference games.
We don’t know how the rest of the season will go, and whether this will be a nice memory in an otherwise forgettable season. But, against a team that simply doesn’t lose to the Nittany Lions, and against a version of this team that is poised to win the conference, or at least compete for a title, Penn State did what doesn’t really happen around these parts. And that, my friends, should ease a lot of skepticism.
Player of the Game
Nick Kern - 15 points, 1 rebound, 2 steals
It would be easy to put Ace Baldwin, Jr. and Kanye Clary here. They combined for 47 of Penn State’s 87 points. But Kern provided the security blanket the Lions so dearly needed when things were starting to go sideways. His defense (he ended up fouling out down the stretch), his free throws, and his overall tenacity throughout the game were big reasons Penn State came out with the win, so Kern gets the nod.
I see you fans - I was noting in our staff Slack channel my surprise at how that court rush actually filled the court!
Speaking of - If you’re mad about kids rushing the court after a win, you know where to get your head out of.
It never happened - It bears repeating. True Penn State basketball fans were waiting for the other shoe to drop the minute the Nittany Lions took that first lead. It never did.
Penn State gets its first return game of the double series, when it travels to Columbus to face Ohio State for the second time. Game tips off on Saturday, at Noon Eastern on the Big Ten Network