Penn State Hoops Maintaining Collective Belief, Confidence Despite Dropping Big Ten Tournament Final
From January 4 to February 8, Penn State men’s basketball posted a dismal 3-8 record over an 11-game conference span, headlined by four single-digit falters.
Heading into a crucial March swing, Micah Shrewsberry’s crew righted the ship by rattling off eight wins over its next nine go-arounds en route to reaching the Big Ten Tournament final against Purdue Sunday afternoon.
While the Nittany Lions ultimately fell to the Boilermakers 67-65 at the United Center in Chicago, symbolically, the way the bunch lost to the would-be first-seeded crew in the NCAA Tournament largely mirrored its entire 35-game body of work.
With 6:18 remaining, Shrewsberry elected to burn a timeout after a post score by Zach Edey extended Purdue’s lead to a 60-43 clip. However, instead of closing up shop in the huddle, Penn State answered the bell by spearheading a 23-7 run to end the matchup.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” Shrewsberry said postgame. “[They showed] unbelievable fight and effort… We fought, we battled. I’m proud of our guys. We’re ready for what’s next.”
With 16 seconds left in regulation, veteran cornerstone Myles Dread launched and drained a clutch three-pointer, bringing the deficit to a three-point, one-possession margin for the first time throughout the 40-minute slugfest.
Although Penn State shot just 7-for-23 from beyond the arc against Matt Painter’s lengthy defensive unit, the Nittany Lions never abandoned its three-and-D persona when faced with dire straits.
Last Sunday, the determined group finished the job in an eerily similar fashion by avenging a once 16-point deficit to outlast No. 21 Maryland, largely impart to 11 points by Dread down the stretch, including three catch-and-shoot triples.
“It’s nowhere we haven’t been before,” Dread said. “We’re a gritty team, and we’ve been in multiple different down-and-out situations [where] we’re down, but we’re never out of any game the way we shoot the ball [and] the way we defend.”
As the head coach of a squad with minimal preseason expectations, managing grand aspirations and lofty goals can become tricky in the face of adversity. When Penn State faced its stark losing skid at the campaign’s halfway point, Shrewsberry helped keep the group’s collective buy-in afloat amongst staunch outside criticism.
Within the confines of Penn State’s temporary locker room at the United Center, players and coaches alike visibly displayed their confident sentiment with a “Believe” poster, stemming from Apple TV’s hit series, “Ted Lasso”.
Through the show’s first season, Lasso relayed one simple message regarding the makeshift poster’s overarching purpose:
“It taught us all to believe in ourselves and each other and to work our hardest, and then, in the end, we can accept whatever happens in our lives,” Lasso, the fictional soccer coach, said in the show.
While the mantra is often described as cliche, stale, or overused, Shrewsberry has mentored his hungry bunch in the same exact manner. Despite falling to Purdue in last-second fashion, zero belief in the Nittany Lions’ ability to make a deep tournament run in March has wavered from the rotation’s starters to role contributors.
“We wanted to come here and win the championship, and we didn’t get the chance to do it,” Shrewsberry said. “But, this is a really unique position for us where we’re gonna go watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, and we’re gonna hear a name called, and at the beginning of the year, probably nobody other than me and those guys in our locker room and our staff was saying this was gonna happen. So, I’m proud of our team for what they’ve done all year.”
With No. 7-seeded Texas A&M looming in the balance, it would be foolish to think Shrewsberry’s high-octane bunch would fail to implement and execute a safe game plan against the SEC runner-ups.
Similarly to Penn State, the Aggies have strung together 10 victories in their last 12 matchups, highlighted by triumphs over tournament teams including Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Alabama.
At the regular and conference tournament season’s conclusion, Texas A&M currently stands as the nation’s No. 19 ranked unit in the NET metrics, including seven Qaud 1 wins and a 15-1 road record while boasting a top-50 strength of schedule. Moreover, the Aggies boast two All-SEC caliber talents in Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford, who account for 29.9 points per game and nearly 41% of offensive production.
Against Purdue on Sunday, the Nittany Lions trailed by just two points with three seconds remaining. Given the option to attempt a higher-probability attempt at the rim or a riskier three-point try from distance, the entirety of Penn State’s starting lineup elected to go for the win with an out-of-bounds set designed for a three-point pursuit.
“Our team, man, they came in the huddle and said ‘Let’s go win it,’” Shrewsberry said. “They wanted to go for the three and the dagger, so I drew something up for them.”
Heading into the Big Dance, it’s evident that the Nittany Lions’ belief and confidence are currently intertwined hand-in-hand. While Shrewsberry and Co. ultimately fell short of eclipsing history in the Windy City, optimistic units with the ability to catch fire have historically exceeded expectations during the four-week madness period.
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