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‘I Can’t Stop Smiling’: Penn State Hoops Reflects On Road To Big Ten Tournament Semifinals

This time one month ago, Penn State men’s basketball was at the tail-end of a four-game losing streak and postseason hope was wearing thin. A 5-9 conference record in mid-February was a sore sight for a once-rejuvenated Nittany Lion fanbase longing for a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years.

Since that February skid, Penn State hoops won five of its six final regular season games and is in the midst of a Big Ten Tournament run following two upsets en route to the tournament semifinals.

On Friday night, the Nittany Lions conquered No. 2-seeded Northwestern in an overtime victory highlighted by one crucial Seth Lundy three, too many free throws to count, and an all-around team effort.

“I think tonight was probably the definition of ‘gritty not pretty,'” head coach Micah Shrewsberry said of the win against Northwestern.

In a postseason run that few could’ve predicted, the Nittany Lions are playing their best basketball when it matters most: March.

“We’re showing that we can win in a couple of different ways,” Shrewsberry said. “We can go bombs away from three. We can be a great offensive team, but sometimes you can’t have that night every night and, here recently, our defense has been really good. If we’re not making shots we can guard people and grind out some tough wins.”

Despite a stout Northwestern defense that limited triples for the majority of the game, Penn State demonstrated that it could shoot from distance through coverage in critical opportunities.

With 46 seconds remaining in overtime, Lundy splashed home a three-point jumper to overtake the Wildcats by two points. The majority of the remaining 46 seconds were spent fouling and on the free-throw line, but Lundy’s pivotal three set the tone for the closing seconds of play and swung the momentum in favor of the Nittany Lions.

“It’s nothing new to me,” Lundy said of the three-point conversion. “I feel like I’ve been doing it for my whole career…I just feel like getting up a shot would be better than nothing anyway.”

While addressing the media after the win over Northwestern, Shrewsberry and Lundy shared a laugh when discussing Lundy’s three-pointer because the senior captain was instructed by his coach to hand the ball off rather than shoot. The transgression paid off in this case, and the pair made light of the infringement along with Jalen Pickett and Andrew Funk.

“I can’t stop smiling sitting here,” Shrewsberry said. “I’m enjoying every moment with this group. It’s so fun to be with them.”

Now, with an NCAA Tournament appearance in sight and more Big Ten basketball to be played, the team is proud of where its come from and where its heading.

“We just had a different mentality,” Lundy said. “We really believe in each other. Ever since [mid-February], we’ve just been on a rampage.”

Without getting too far ahead of themselves, the Nittany Lions were sure to acknowledge and celebrate the feat of beating Northwestern through the lens of its missteps.

Typical sharpshooter Funk missed an open look in the final seconds of the second half when both teams were knotted at 56, which gifted the Wildcats a second chance to overtake the Nittany Lions.

“It looked good,” Funk said of his missed three-point attempt at the end of regulation. “I owe them one. I owe my teammates one there at the end of regulation…I’m gonna let it go when I’m open and it felt great off the hands but then going into overtime I felt great about the group I was going into the last five minutes with.”

For a team that’s seen so much adversity, its never taken its foot off the pedal or lost trust in those who make it special. Because of that, it’s reaping the rewards and is on its way to a historical postseason run.

“We’re in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament,” Shrewsberry said. “A tournament I’ve been watching as a little kid and now I get a chance to coach it.”

Penn State will continue its Big Ten Tournament journey against No. 3-seeded Indiana at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, at the United Center. Then, the Nittany Lions will await their seeding in the 2023 NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.

“We don’t want this thing to end,” Shrewsberry said. “We never want this thing to end. We want to play as long as possible.”

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About the Author

Keeley Lamm

Keeley is a junior journalism major from Richmond, Virginia, and is Onward State's managing editor. She also talks about awesome stuff on our podcast, Podward State. Keeley is a lover of grilled cheese and Kevin Jonas. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the superior Jonas Brother, feel free to contact her on Twitter @keeleylammm or send your best joke to her email [email protected].

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