UNIVERSITY PARK -- Glancing at the wonderful, whiteout crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center, seeing 15,403 fans pumped for the program's biggest game in a decade, one couldn't help but think: "Wouldn't it be great if Penn State basketball were like this all the time?"
Then the game started. And we were reminded why it's not.
The Nittany Lions got pummeled Tuesday night by Ohio State, 82-61. Sure, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the country, and there's no shame in losing to them.
But there's plenty to be embarrassed about given what was at stake, that the Lions had lost only 69-66 in Columbus six weeks ago and that they were absolutely crushed this time around.
It was a huge game, and Penn State didn't show up.
"We just didn't have it tonight, which stinks because the atmosphere was great," PSU guard Talor Battle said after the final regular-season home game of his career.
Battle should get an additional home game when the Lions are selected to play in yet another NIT. They can forget about the NCAA Tournament now, unless they put together a miracle run and win the Big Ten tourney.
A victory Tuesday wouldn't have locked up an NCAA Tournament berth for PSU, but knocking off the nation's No. 1 team would have given them a massive boost in the eyes of the selection committee.
Instead of making a positive splash with an upset, getting drilled at home the way they did will have the opposite effect on the Lions' chances.
"We picked a bad night to play really poorly," PSU coach Ed DeChellis said.
That's an understatement.
There are so few reasons to get excited about Penn State basketball, but Tuesday provided one of them. The game was a golden opportunity for the program to make a national statement.
Which it did.
The statement the Lions made -- reiterated from two years ago -- is that every so often they will be good enough to tease us into believing they actually could make the NCAA Tournament.
Then they go out and lay an egg in the one game that actually could help get them there.
"The whole night was disappointing how we came out and played," Battle said.
The Lions disappointed from the start, falling victim to the dreaded "senior night curse" that does in so many teams. Players are so fired up emotionally on senior night that they sometimes come out and play exceptionally well, but more often than not it seems like they're too fired up and fizzle at the start.
The Lions, particularly Jeff Brooks, did just that.
"I think we had a little bit too much energy," Battle said.
Brooks, who has had a nice year averaging 13.6 points, was only 1-of-8 from the field in the first half and later fouled out with only six points. The Lions have so little margin for error and no depth, so if just one of their four key players struggles, they're in big trouble.
Pretty much everything went wrong for PSU in the opening 20 minutes as they made only six field goals -- by comparison, Buckeye sharpshooter Jon Diebler had six 3s in the half -- and they were beaten in every facet of the game.
DeChellis talked about how Diebler and the Buckeyes couldn't miss and that when they shoot like that, no one can beat them. That's true, but it must be pointed out the Lions made no defensive adjustments on Diebler, who was wide open on most of his 10 3-pointers.
Even if the Lions had played very well, they may not have beaten Ohio State. We are talking about a No. 1 seed that just may win the whole thing.
Still, DeChellis' entire program has been built to get to this game, on this night, with Battle and three other senior starters. Is it too much to expect a competitive effort with the season on the line?
That, in a nutshell, is Penn State basketball.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.