Why Not Us?: Penn State Men Upset NCAA Tournament-Bound Iowa 67-58
Survive and advance is the mantra of single-elimination college basketball, and Penn State did just that this afternoon in Chicago. The Nittany Lions defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes 67-58, allowing the “Why Not Us” refrain to live for another day. A terrible first half and a terrific second evoked the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Penn State’s season, and in the end the 13th-seeded Nittany Lions will take on Purdue in the United Center on Friday at 2:25 p.m. on ESPN.
How It Happened
It was a slow start for both teams, as both defenses pressed the opposing offense into low-percentage chances. It took nearly ten minutes for either team to reach double-digit point totals, and the game was neck-and-neck for the first fifteen minutes or so. Despite the lackluster start, Ross Travis looked like he had no interest in playing his last game in Blue and White, battling for every rebound and showing a deft touch scoring from the low post. However, has become tradition this season, Penn State started to lose themselves as the end of the half neared. Aaron White, Iowa’s star player, hit two free throws and put in an easy layup to extend the Iowa lead to 19-13. An incredibly ugly sequence followed, with Iowa missing three consecutive field goal attempts, but pulling down offensive rebounds on all three before Jarrod Uthoff knocked down a mid-range jumper. Both teams traded buckets near the end of the half, and the Hawkeyes punctuated it on a huge Uthoff block of Geno Thorpe in the waning seconds.
The second half opened with Penn State down 27-19, and a thunderous dunk from the seemingly omnipresent Uthoff about 30 seconds in had a feeling of impending doom about it. That dunk, though, woke up the Nittany Lions up from their game-long coma. Penn State would go on an 15-2 run over the next eight minutes to take a 36-34 lead into the TV timeout. It was that run you’ve seen teams make against Penn State in conference play all season, the one you wished we could replicate. Today, the tables finally turned. Pat Chambers clearly found some secret stuff and distributed it at halftime, because the Lions played relentless basketball down the stretch. With just under eight minutes to play and Penn State up 42-40, Iowa was whistled for a technical foul. It was a terrible mental lapse in a close game, one Iowa needed to win in order secure a better seed in the NCAA tournament. The mistake was compounded exponentially when it awoke the beast, DJ Newbill. Penn State’s star was having a relatively quiet game, scoring just seven points in the first 32 minutes of play. However, he took the free throw on that technical and used it as a springboard. Penn State’s next twelve points were either scored or assisted on by Newbill, who would finish with 17 points for the contest. Iowa, who did their best work at the free throw line today with an 80% conversion clip, pulled the game 58-56 off a pair of trips to the stripe from White and Gabriel Olaseni. Shep Garner got himself caught in the trap on the inbounds pass and Chambers called a timeout. The Nittany Lions had seen this movie too many times this season, and decided it was about time for an alternate ending. After eating the clock, Penn State pushed the ball to Travis, who drove the baseline, sunk an acrobatic layup and drew the foul. #RossTravisJumpshots gave way to an excellent post game for the senior forward today, a trend that will need to continue. The free throw gave Penn State a 61-56 lead, and a missed White layup followed by a Newbill dunk put the game out of reach. Iowa fouled down the stretch, but there was simply no time to mount a comeback. The last seconds ticked away, and Penn State walked away with the biggest upset in conference tournament play thus far.
Player of the Game
Ross Travis, whose re-emergence was absolutely massive for the Lions. The quality of the work he put in cannot be understated, as he finished the day with 17 points and 7 rebounds, and also went 5-6 from the free throw line. His troubles from the charity stripe and with his jumper this season have been well-documented, but he had a day against Iowa’s talented bigs, attacking the basket with all his might. Speaking of those bigs, Travis (and Brandon Taylor) guarded a combo of White and Uthoff, and held First Team All-Big Ten forward and his partner-in-crime to just 37% shooting on a combined 10-27 from the floor, including 1-8 from three. DJ Newbill is equally deserving of this honor, as he scored 18 points to go with 6 rebounds and was red-hot down the stretch to close out the Hawkeyes. However, as we’ve seen, Penn State cannot win games relying solely on Newbill. Travis, a fellow senior, made sure Pat Chambers and co. didn’t have to. Travis and Newbill played like seniors with the season on the line, and will need to do so again tomorrow against Purdue.
Tweet of the Game
WHY. NOT. BUS.
— Matt d (@PSUMatt2005) March 12, 2015
Black Shoe Diaries’ Matt de Bear put together an under appreciated but perfect tweet, combining the team’s tournament mantra of “Why Not Us?” with the fan base’s ignited automobile god, accurately describing everyone’s emotions following the Travis dunk.
The young guns played quality minutes, and Geno Thorpe may have just taken a leap today. The sophomore guard filled the stats sheet, finishing with 11 points, six steals, five rebounds, three assists and a block before fouling out. If Thorpe can continue to emerge as an all-around player to complement his already excellent defensive skills, the Penn State bench suddenly looks far more scary. Shep Garner was only 1-6 today, but that one shot was a huge three, and he drove to the lane when he realized his shot wasn’t falling today. He also ate clock and pushed the ball back out at critical moments, showing some veteran poise for an 18-year old freshman.
Purdue. The Boilermakers, you may recall, beat Penn State 84-77 in a horrifying collapse for State that may be the most frustrating loss of the yer. The Nittany Lions will take on the other (better) team from Indiana, KenPom’s 48th-overall team, in Chicago’s United Center on Friday at 2:25 p.m. on ESPN. It won’t be easy, but, well, #WhyNotUs?