Unpacking Penn State Hoops’ 2020-21 Season

Penn State men’s basketball had quite an eventful season, to say the least.

One month before the season began, Pat Chambers resigned as head coach, allowing Jim Ferry to take over in an interim role. Meanwhile, there also happened to be a pandemic going on, too.

Despite all the hurdles, Penn State went 11-14. That is a losing record, and a tough pill to swallow following a breakout 2019-20 season. But under the circumstances that the Nittany Lions faced, it is a rather solid outcome.

In non-conference play, it looked like Penn State was going to be a team to look out for in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions handled VMI with ease, Myles Dread did Myles Dread things by beating VCU at the buzzer, and they stomped on a ranked Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg.

The only non-conference loss was to Seton Hall when the Pirates would come back and win in overtime. Even with that loss, Seth Lundy was balling out, and Penn State looked good going into conference play.

But it was in conference play that the season started to fall apart. Two of the first three games were very close, taking Michigan and Indiana to the very end. The Illinois game was more of a blowout, but the Fighting Illini were one of the best teams this season, so it’s hard to fault the Nittany Lions’ performance there.

Then came the COVID-19 outbreak. Penn State had to pause all team activities for a couple of weeks due to positive tests within the program. It should be commended how fast the team acted, isolating the people involved and getting back on the court rather quickly. Obviously, no team wants to go through a pause like that. But it was handled as well as it could have been given the circumstances.

There was definitely some rust that needed to be shaken after the pause, with losses to Purdue and Illinois stemming from lack of playing. But the team was able to pick up two wins against Rutgers and Northwestern, and suddenly, Ferry’s squad found a groove.

The run was largely led by seniors John Harrar and Jamari Wheeler. Harrar was the grittiest dude on the team and did all the things needed to be done to win. While not being the tallest big man out there, he had the strength to stick with them and be a force in the paint.

Wheeler was the defensive spark. It may not have shown up in the box score, but his hustle and his energy are things that can’t be replaced by anyone else on the team. He and Harrar made their presence felt in every aspect of the game, and allowed for players like Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington to be the main scorers for the team.

The Nittany Lions would alternate back and forth between winning and losing games for a while. A big home win against Wisconsin really started to get people excited for a tournament run, but then they lost to Nebraska at home, effectively ending their postseason dreams.

Or so we all thought. Penn State got hot right at the end, winning the last two games of the season against Minnesota and Maryland. It would then go on to beat Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions were making a run before losing a heartbreaker to Wisconsin in the next round.

While the Nittany Lions didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, it isn’t fair to call this season a disappointment. The Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country, and Penn State held its own in most of its games.

The team had chances to beat tournament teams like Michigan and Ohio State, and the Nittany Lions did beat tournament teams like Maryland, Rutgers, and Wisconsin. By all accounts, Penn State was not a bad team.

There was some bad luck at play, as well as long cold stretches from players like Lundy and Dread. Had Lundy been consistently the go-to scorer from start to finish, things may have turned out differently.

Credit also needs to go to Ferry, who took over a tough situation and got all the players to buy into what he tried to achieve. He absolutely deserves to get another head coaching job, and he should be one when next season tips off.

As we move forward to next season, with roster uncertainty and a new coach in Micah Shrewsberry, who knows what will be in store? But one thing is for sure: Despite the highs and lows of this season, Penn State basketball was fun to watch. Now, it’s time for the next chapter.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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