This is still a big story in college basketball, though maybe not the story it once was.
This is still a historic season for a program, even if the end is looking all too much like the decades that preceded it.
This, perhaps, still will be a very dangerous team once the NCAA men’s basketball tournament starts March 17. Even if it looks tired and worn down and, all too often, overwhelmed as the attention intensified.
Penn State’s men’s basketball team has 20 wins, a feat it accomplished just once in the previous 24 seasons. A little more than two weeks ago, it stood at No. 9 in the Associated Press Top 25, its best ranking ever.
It has also lost four of its last five games since. Its best player, senior Lamar Stevens, is shooting just 33 percent from the floor in those contests; outside of his 11-for-27 performance at Indiana on Feb. 23, he’s at 29.5 percent. The Nittany Lions had second-half leads against Illinois and Indiana, and lost both. It blew an 18-point halftime lead against Rutgers on Feb. 26 and needed a deep 3-pointer by sophomore Myles Dread in the closing seconds to avoid defeat. It trailed by 1 at halftime at Iowa on Saturday and was down 13 by the 10-minute mark on the way to a 77-68 loss.
Then Tuesday, in one of the most-anticipated games ever at the Bryce Jordan Center, the No. 20 Lions steamrolled No. 16 Michigan State in the first half, draining 10 3-pointers, handcuffing Spartans star point guard Cassius Winston, and building a 15-point halftime lead.
Then, a legendary coach with the composed team completely flipped the script. Michigan State’s defense tightened, while Penn
State’s loosened. The Spartans attacked the basket offensively, and Penn State had far too many empty possessions. The Nittany Lions who hit those 10 3s in the first half hit zero in the second. The Spartans connected on 19 of their 28 second-half shots. And Penn State went from up 19 to down 10 in less than 15 minutes of game action.
“We’re a damn good team,” Penn State head coach Pat Chambers said after the loss. “We just haven’t played 40 minutes yet.”