Giger: Tough to have confidence in PSU right now
UNIVERSITY PARK — Be honest: No matter how much you’ve enjoyed this Penn State season, no matter how excited you’ve been for the great possibilities, there’s always been that nagging voice in the back of your mind saying, “They’re gonna blow it.”
That is incredibly unfair to the players and coaches on this year’s team, who already have accomplished a great deal and will be going to the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.
It’s also just the way it is.
Call it the Penn State basketball condition, molded over many, many years of disappointing results that prevent people from ever truly buying in with any level of confidence.
Well, the Nittany Lions have now lost four of five since reeling off eight straight wins. The only game they won in that stretch came after blowing a huge lead at home against Rutgers before getting a last-second 3-pointer from Myles Dread to win.
There was no magic 3-pointer Tuesday night. No coming back after a huge collapse and still pulling out a victory.
Penn State led by 19 points in the first half and by 15 at the break against Michigan State. And still lost, 79-71.
Everyone knew the Spartans would fight back, but the speed with which it happened in the second half was stunning.
It took Sparty all of 5:28 to erase that 15-point deficit and take the lead for good, part of a staggering 24-3 run to open the second half.
With star Lamar Stevens shooting 3-of-19, there wasn’t much chance Penn State could hold off this hard-charging group of Spartans, who are peaking at the right time of the year.
Penn State, on the other hand, clearly peaked too early. Now, it’s a team that’s limping to the finish line and hoping to hang on to a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re a damn good team. We’re a damn good team,” PSU coach Patrick Chambers said after the tough loss Tuesday.
“A lot of basketball to be played,” Chambers added. “A lot of time for us to right the ship. And we will.”
It still could happen.
Penn State is a solid basketball team that can play with or beat just about anybody in the country. If it shoots the ball well.
Like in the first half, drilling 10 3-pointers for a 46-31 lead.
“Those guys made every shot they took,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Now, we didn’t guard anybody, but they made every shot they took.”
Things changed in the second half, Penn State couldn’t buy a bucket and the Spartans caught fire.
Not so fast.
Even if you’re in the “here we go again” camp as a Penn State fan, there is still a lot to look forward to. Potentially, anyway.
The Lions likely will fall anywhere from a 6-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, depending on how the next two weeks go, and they certainly can win a first-round game. Whether they can win more than that will depend on how well they shoot the ball and how well they’re able to finish games.
In other words, there’s simply no way to know, because this team is all over the place from game to game.
“I don’t think confidence has anything to do with it,” center John Harrar said. “This is the most confident basketball team that I’ve played with.”
Chambers said a big part of the team’s potential down the stretch is getting guard Myreon Jones back to full speed after he missed several weeks with an illness (which was reported to be mononucleosis).
Jones was great early Tuesday and finished with 16 points and four 3s, but he didn’t score in the final 10 minutes.
“Once we get him back to full strength, I think it’s full steam ahead,” Chambers said.
Izzo repeatedly praised Chambers after the game Tuesday, saying things like, “I love Pat’s team. I love what he’s done here. He’s a great coach and a great guy.”
That praise from someone as successful as Izzo is warranted for Chambers, who has indeed done a good job and finally, finally has Penn State in position to dance.
There’s a lot to like about that.
Given that the program has rarely ever been in this position, simply getting to the tournament is enough reason to be excited about Penn State basketball.
But how excited can we really be about a team that just blew a 19-point lead on senior night and has lost four of five?
Three weeks ago, it seemed like the Lions could be in position for a run to the Sweet 16 or even Elite 8.
Maybe that can still happen.
Or, maybe we all bought in too soon to a team and program that has a history of breaking our hearts.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.