Penn State basketball has a deeper history than many might think. In fact, there was a time not too long ago when home games weren’t held in the cavernous, quarter-filled BJC, but instead in a packed, intimidating Rec Hall.
The basketball team didn’t leave Rec Hall until 1996. In the 18 years that the Jordan Center has served as its home court, the Nittany Lions have only made the NCAA tournament twice. The Lions boasted a 514-183 record at Rec Hall: far, far better than how it’s faired in the BJC. In anticipation of Saturday’s ‘Return to Rec’, and with such a rich history, we decided to look back at a few of Rec’s most memorable games.
(Note: Here’s a great piece yesterday from Ryan Jones of Penn Stater Magazine who recounts his days as a student watching basketball at Rec Hall.)
December 5, 1973 (Penn State 93, Virginia 68)
Back in the day, Rec Hall had a capacity of about 6,300. That may sound small, compared to the 15,261 seats in the Jordan Center, but it’s about two thousand more than most basketball games have yielded this year. Still, none of this stopped 8,600 fans from packing into the cramped field house to watch Penn State take on Virginia. The Cavaliers entered State College led by Wally Walker, a 6’7” forward who would be the fifth pick in the NBA draft three years later. Led by 36 points from Penn State’s Ron Brown and 10 rebounds by the Lion’s ninth all time leading rebounder Randy Meister, Penn State crushed Virginia 93-68.
January 4, 1983 (Penn State 84, George Washington 67)
Before Penn State basketball joined the Big Ten in 1992, the Nittany Lions played in the Atlantic Ten conference. The 1982-83 season was Penn State’s first in this basketball-dominated conference, and on January 4 against George Washington, the Lions played their first official home court conference matchup. Penn State had an overwhelmingly successful first season in the A10, finishing 17-11 overall and 9-5 in conference, good enough for a third place finish. Mike Lang led the Nittany Lions in their first Atlantic Ten go around, as he averaged a nightly double-double: 13 points and 10 rebounds a game.
February 9, 1993 (Penn State 84, Indiana 88)
The 1992-93 season was a big year for Penn State basketball. For the first time, the Lions were a full member of the Big Ten, and thus faced stiffer competition than in the past. Penn State would finish the year 7-20, but none of that mattered on February 9. For the first time, Bobby Knight’s 10-0, number one, seemingly unstoppable Indiana Hoosiers traveled to State College.
Earlier that week, Knight had made a crack that the journey to Central Pennsylvania was more of a “camping trip” than a basketball game. The comment ruffled some feathers, and Knight’s Hoosiers were met with an angry, packed Rec Hall. It was an amazing game, which found Penn State ahead by four with 31 seconds to go. A quick Hoosiers layup, a controversial offensive foul, and two more IU foul shots forced overtime. The Lions ultimately fell 88-84 in two overtimes, and the Hoosiers eventually ended their season in the Elite Eight. For a night however, the two teams were even in the backwoods of Pennsylvania.
If you’re interested in watching the last minute or so of this game, check out this piece by The Penn Stater’s Ryan Jones.
January 27, 1994 (Penn State 71, Purdue 68)
Termed by many the greatest victory in Penn State basketball history, Purdue’s Glenn Robinson — possibly the best college basketball player to ever step foot in Rec Hall — entered State College on a snowy Thursday evening to battle the Nittany Lions. Robinson, a 6’7″, 240 pound man nicknamed the “Big Dog” would go on to win the National Player of the Year later that season. After trailing 14-2 five minutes into the game, Robinson and his no. 7 ranked Boilermakers found themselves down by just three with 2.5 seconds remaining. A contested three-point attempt by Purdue’s Matt Waddell fell just short. Legend has it that the students had already rushed the court by the time the ball hit the ground. Robinson finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
January 23, 1993 (Penn State 58, Iowa 74)
This wasn’t much of a game: Penn State fell to Iowa 58-74 to lose its third of an eventual twelve game losing streak. More importantly, however, this game featured a video of a Penn State student being tossed for heckling a ref. As the video suggests, even during a 7-20 season, Rec Hall was filled to its brim. When the team was good, it was one of hardest venues to play in in the country. And, in large part because of the continuously large crowds, the Lions were 13-14, 21-11 the following season, and 21-6 the ensuing one.