TUCSON, Ariz. -- Penn State didn't get to the NCAA Tournament or in position to nearly win a thrilling game because of an abundance of talent.
The Nittany Lions did that because of an abundance of heart and character.
Honestly, have you ever watched a Penn State game and thought to yourself: "Those are some outstanding basketball players."
Sure, the thought crosses your mind watching Talor Battle. And Jeff Brooks is a quality college player who could start for many teams in the country.
Beyond those two, however, Penn State didn't have much firepower this season.
So when Brooks went down with a shoulder injury early in the second half Thursday, the "game over" thought probably popped into many people's heads.
"We may not be the most talented or athletic team in the country, but one thing we do is go out and fight, compete, scrap," guard D.J. Jackson said. "That's something that we really hung our hats on is being a team that goes out and plays hard."
The Lions did an exceptional job of that in the second half, hanging around when they probably had no business doing so.
Battle wasn't scoring. He had no points the first 14:07 of the second half, yet when he finally made a layup with 5:53 to play, the Lions trailed only 51-50.
Guts and sheer willpower, that's what kept PSU in striking distance.
"Talent is only just a little bit of basketball," Brooks said. "There's so many other intangibles that come along with it, and that's what got us to this point -- the little things, playing with heart, playing with emotion, having fun on the floor and just being good teammates."
If Brooks had been able to play, Penn State probably would be advancing to face No. 2 seed San Diego State on Saturday. He was second on the team in scoring (13.3) and first in rebounding (6.5), so his presence surely would have provided more than the combined two points scored by Jermaine Marshall and Cammeron Woodyard.
"I know I could have affected the game in a positive way," Brooks said. "I don't know if we would have won if I had played, but I just know that I would have been an X factor out there with more energy and making shots and playing defense."
Brooks went to the locker room with 18:53 to play and jogged back onto the court to the bench wearing a sling and ice pack with 15:43 remaining.
"As soon as I came back on the floor, I just said, 'Everybody needs to step it up,' and that's exactly what everybody did," Brooks said. "I'm proud of every guy that's in a blue uniform right now."
One disappointing aspect of the game was that PSU coach Ed DeChellis opted to sit Brooks for the final 10:44 of the first half with two fouls. That was a bad decision.
The Lions led 20-13 at the time, yet went into the locker room down 35-33. It's one thing to try and save a player for crunch time, but DeChellis' decision basically cost his team a nine-point swing when he should have trusted that his senior would not pick up a third foul.
This is the NCAA Tournament, for crying out loud, and sometimes you've just got to take a chance.
"I felt like we were right within striking distance, and I didn't want to chance him picking up a third one," DeChellis said.
So instead of having control of the game, the Lions went cold offensively without Brooks or any other capable bench scorers and let Temple right back in it.
Heart and character are great intangibles to have, and they helped make Penn State a factor in March.
But if the Lions are to be a consistent NCAA Tournament team, they need better players and more of them.
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.