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Gameday Observations: Penn State Hoops’ March Madness Journey

Penn State men’s basketball made the most of its first NCAA Tournament bid in 12 years and didn’t want to go home after its opening appearance against Texas A&M on Thursday, March 16.

The Nittany Lions blew out the Aggies by 17 points to earn another chance to play in the Round of 32 on Saturday, March 18, against No. 2-seeded Texas. Though Penn State’s tournament run came to a close despite a late-game comeback attempt against the Longhorns, there was plenty to see in Des Moines, Iowa, throughout Micah Shrewsberry’s squad’s Cinderella run.

Iowa Is Far Away

Thirteen-plus hours in the car is no joke. The trip from State College to Des Moines is a 12-hour-and-37-minute endeavor, and it took us just under 14 hours to reach the midwestern capital.

It’s essentially a straight shot on I-80 the entire way, but don’t let that fool you into speeding. Iowan police have been known to pull people over. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The NCAA Patches Are C l e a n

Penn State hoops received ~official~ NCAA patches on its jerseys for the tournament appearance. Simply put, the patches look awesome on the basic blues.

Penn State Didn’t Travel Well

It turns out that Des Moines is just far enough away by car and inaccessible enough by plane that few Penn Staters could make the trip to March Madness. Still, after discovering that the Nittany Lions would play ball in Des Moines on Selection Sunday, the few faithful made the journey for the team’s Thursday and Saturday matchups.

On Saturday, Penn State hoops played immediately after a competitive Kansas-Arkansas battle. The Razorbacks narrowly defeated the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks en route to an upset causing head coach Eric Musselman to take his shirt off. Afterward, the Kansas fans seemingly began rooting for bracket busts and backed the Nittany Lions over their burnt orange conference foes. Rock chalk Jayhawk, we suppose.

The Big Uglies Showed Out On Thursday

If there is a Penn State sporting event, you can count on the Big Uglies to make an appearance. The passionate group of supporters made its presence known in the Nittany Lions’ battle against Texas A&M and reminded folks of home. Wholesome.

Pat Kraft & Venkat Bendapudi Make Appearances

Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft and First Gentleman Venkat Bendapudi traded cheering duties during Penn State’s residency in Des Moines.

On Thursday, Kraft sat behind members of the media with his son and represented Penn State Athletics from courtside.

On Saturday, Kraft and Bendapudi switched credentials so the first gentleman could take in some Penn State hoops. Horns down, Mr. Bendapudi.

The Nittany Lion Sweeps Dance Battle

To no surprise, the Nittany Lion is the best mascot in America. During a media timeout on Saturday, the Nittany Lion and Bevo the Longhorn danced it out at half-court. Bevo pulled out some “Gangnam Style” moves, but the 2012-hit song was silenced by an incredible, commanding “Nae Nae” by the Nittany Lion.

It was purely electric. The Nae Nae never misses.

Penn State Merch Impressed

There was an overwhelming amount of March Madness merchandise available, but we were pleasantly surprised by the swagger of the Penn State-specific merch. Each midwestern-region team had its own individual t-shirts available, along with Iowan teams Iowa, Drake, and Iowa State.

After a 12-year tournament drought, lots of Penn Staters went home with this t-shirt.

Hailey Stutzman | Onward State

NCAA Rolls Out Red Carpet For Media


Onward State was spoiled with its media seating throughout the course of our tournament coverage. Our beat full of basketball fanatics was ecstatic to learn that we could watch every other midwestern region game featuring Kansas, Arkansas, Illinois, Texas, Texas A&M, Colgate, and Howard.

During the four games that the Nittany Lions weren’t participating in between Thursday and Saturday, we were favorably sent to a media box to watch the matchups from above.

However, for the Penn State hoops games, we were located courtside for both. It was truly an incredible experience for our beat writers and photographer to be so close to the action.

It’s True: Midwesterners Are Nicer

The folks of Des Moines proved to be some of the nicest people we’ve ever encountered. We can wholeheartedly say that the Wells Fargo Arena staffs a handful of great people, including our new friends Rick and David.

Just about everywhere we went in the Wells Fargo Arena, there was a friendly face that recognized our Onward State crew and showed us so much midwestern kindness.

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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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