‘We’re Not Good Enough Yet’: Penn State Hoops’ Mentality Downfall Against Minnesota
When Micah Shrewsberry was the head coach of Penn State men’s basketball for two years, his team ran on a simple motto: “Gritty, not pretty.” The Nittany Lions lived and died by that saying. They weren’t always going to play the most attractive basketball on the court, but they willed themselves to a victory no matter the cost.
On Saturday night at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Penn State team run by Mike Rhoades was neither gritty nor pretty. It was losing.
Penn State’s had a lot of ugly losses under Rhoades, who’s in his first year as Penn State’s head coach. The Nittany Lions lost to Bucknell, were curb stomped by Purdue, and the Ohio State team that Penn State beat at home earlier in the year trounced the blue and white around a week before Saturday’s game. That’s all without mentioning Rhoades’ loss against VCU, the team he coached last year.
Rhoades’ team hasn’t had a game like its loss against Minnesota, however. Up by 16 points at one point, the Nittany Lions surrendered all of that lead and more in the second half to the Golden Gophers. A quick scoring run from Minnesota punched Penn State in the mouth and the Nittany Lions never got back up.
Rhoades knew just how bad the loss was. It was his fault, he said, but his players need to build up their mental toughness.
“Second half, we just got very frustrated very quick and it just really put us into the mud,” Rhoades said Saturday night. “It’s on me. It’s on all of us to understand this. We’re not a consistent basketball team and you saw that tonight.”
Penn State’s players said they took their foot off the gas as they gave up 52 points in just 20 minutes. The Nittany Lions were outscored, outshot, and outhustled.
Still, Rhoades said this is what his team needs to grow. Adversity is good for the team and makes the group tougher. But 11 losses later, Penn State seems like it hasn’t grown enough.
“I can’t use the word I want to use, but you got to go through some stuff to get where you want to go,” Rhoades said. “It seems like we’re going through the same stuff over and over again this year.”
Penn State hadn’t given up as brutal a comeback previously in the year, but the game was a case study of most of the season. The Nittany Lions have the talent to win, but they can’t string together a full 40 minutes of good basketball.
There are moments when it seems the Nittany Lions have learned their lesson. They certainly put together a full 40 minutes of play in their upset of then-No. 11 Wisconsin and they did the same thing against then-votes-receiving Ohio State in December. But then come games like that against Minnesota, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, and others where Penn State just doesn’t finish the job.
Rhoades doesn’t hesitate to say when his team doesn’t finish the job. It didn’t take much to get his real diagnosis of the game on Saturday night.
“You have to show these guys what the issue is, what the problems are,” Rhoades said. “You have to make sure they have a clear understanding of what is good enough and what isn’t. And it’s not picking on them, it’s making them aware that this is the stuff we have to do to become a successful basketball program. And some of it is things you’ll never see and some of the things you will see.”
For at least a brief moment on Saturday night, Penn State was pretty. Its ball movement was exquisite, shots fell as if they were guided by divine providence, and an aggressive defensive style forced mistake after mistake from the Golden Gophers.
Once the grittiness disappeared, though, so did the prettiness. Away went the passing, the shots, and the turnovers. In came mistakes and deficits before the final buzzer put an end to a miserable second half. Once again, Rhoades had to be honest about the state of his team.
“We’re not good enough yet. Call it as it is. We’re just not good enough yet,” Rhoades said. “And it’s going to take some time, but man, you get excited when you see that first 20 minutes, but it’s just not good enough.”
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