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‘Back Against The Wall’: Blueprint Clear For Penn State Hoops’ Success In NCAA Tournament

Remarkable. Historic. Legendary. Those are just a few words to describe the final six games of Penn State men’s basketball’s season.

With their backs against the wall and a whole lot more to prove, the Nittany Lions went on a five-game winning streak, collected four Quad 1 victories, and were one shot away from taking home the Big Ten Championship crown. Despite a disappointing end to a promising run, Penn State completed the goal it set at the start of the season: make the NCAA Tournament.

It doesn’t mean it was easy, however. Camren Wynter kicked off the streak with a three-pointer at the buzzer during overtime in front of a packed Northwestern crowd. Wynter then hit another game-winner at the Bryce Jordan Center against then-No. 21 Maryland to end the regular season.

After a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State took down Illinois for the third time this season, took down the Wildcats again in overtime, and fended off a late-game comeback from Indiana to get to the Big Ten Championship.

Every single game since March 1 has been decided by four or fewer points. With the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, Shrewsberry believes this team is more than battle tested.

“We’ve probably just played six NCAA Tournament games in a row,” he said. “How those games were, how close they were, how each possession mattered — that’s what an NCAA Tournament game is.”

Despite the tightness of the games and how they unfolded, Shrewsberry isn’t wrong. All of those teams are in the NCAA Tournament, with Illinois as a nine-seed, Maryland an eight-seed, Northwestern a seven-seed, and Purdue sitting at a one-seed in the east region.

A huge part of Penn State’s end-of-season stretch was its defense. For a team that hasn’t been great at creating turnovers, collecting rebounds, or even shot contesting, something switched in Chicago.

In their games at the United Center, the Nittany Lions locked up the perimeter and only allowed 22.9% of threes to fall, out-rebounded each team they beat, took charges, and jumped at loose balls. The “gritty, not pretty” mantra was on full display when Penn State was desperate to win.

“It’s been a little more ‘back against the wall,’ ‘do or die’ type of situations,” Shrewsberry said. “Our guys have really been buckling down and doing whatever it takes… I think that’s where we’re at our best: when our backs are against the wall.”

At the end of the day, Penn State didn’t die. Instead, it secured its spot as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, Shrewsberry doesn’t want this team to get complacent with the recognition. Instead, he wants his team to use the same fuel that sparked the late-season run.

“You’ve accomplished hearing your name called in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Don’t take a deep breath and don’t take your foot off the gas. You have to play even better, and now you got to play even harder. You got to play with that same ‘do or die’ mentality.”

With a game slated on Thursday night against a tough No. 7 seed in Texas A&M, Shrewsberry recognizes the problems that Julius Marble, Tyrece Radford, and even the mind of Buzz Williams will bring. Still, with what he’s seen from his squad as of late, he knows this team isn’t scared of the challenge.

“These guys don’t let anything rattle [them],” Shrewsberry said. “[Whether it] be down against Maryland, down against Purdue until the horn goes off, we still have a chance, and they really believe that. So, there’s never a lead that’s safe.”

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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