When I was a freshman in the fall of 2007, I remember having to wake up extremely early on a Sunday in early December. I had never seen the snow before that winter, and I sure as hell was not for walking in it so early on a Sunday. I was set to work as the statistician for the Lady Lions Sunday morning game with ComRadio, which meant I had to go to the game in business attire. There I was, running toward the Bryce Jordan Center, freezing, slipping nearly everywhere because of my dress shoes and a pounding headache from the vodka and beers I had chugged the night before.
I get to the arena, sweating profusely, and getting ready for what the two broadcasters for the game (both much older than me and not really friendly) were saying was bound to be an ass kicking.
Duke was ranked tenth in the nation, Penn State featured a new head coach and a bunch of players that (for better or worse) were not her own. But, the game turned out to be a barnburner, tons of big runs, lots of excitement; the Lady Lions were tied with the surging Devils, who had been down by as many as eleven at one point, when Brianne O’Rourke (the teams star player) hustled up court to drive in a game winning lay up. The Lady Lions won 86-84, snapping Duke’s 76-game win streak against unranked opponents.
We left the Jordan Center knowing that the 2007-2008 Lady Lions may not be a NCAA Tournament team, they may not have even been an NIT team, but with Coquese Washington at it’s helm, the program was going to be more than alright.
Fast forward six years and a month, I watched the Nittany Lions from my living room couch, a beer in one hand, my sweaty palm clutching to the remote in the other. And this crazy thing happened: as D.J. Newbill hit this game winning pull-up jumper, I began to feel the way the entire building felt that Sunday morning when O’Rourke hit her lay-up at the end of regulation.
I began to feel like this team was going somewhere.
This game was the kind of game that Penn State loses. They stay in the game, even have the lead a few times, but shoot themselves in the foot to lose the game to a “better” team. This is, of course, en route to a disappointing win-loss record.
DJ’s jumper was cathartic. Not just because Penn State hadn’t beaten Ohio State in ten years. Not just because Thad Matta was undefeated against Penn State since the beginning of his tenure. And not just because this win so happens to be Penn State’s first win since Value City Arena opened in 1999. The biggest reason this jumper was cathartic, at least in my humble opinion, is because the shot sends a message that Penn State is on it’s way to relevance. It may not be this year, or even next year, but they’re on their way.
Some pointed to the win over eventual national runner-up Michigan last season as the “turning point” game during Chambers’ tenure. I may have at the time, but in retrospect, maybe that game was a fluke. Maybe that one was a game that was more about Michigan playing a terrible game than Penn State beating them (though to be fair, Penn State had given Michigan all they could handle ten days earlier in Ann Arbor). Tonight, in beating 23rd ranked Ohio State, a program that is so consistently good that it gets to be apoplectic to play them, after weeks of nearly beating top-flight Big Ten squads, the belief is back.
I can’t say that Pat Chambers is going to do what Coquese Washington has done for the Lady Lions (though I’d argue that it wasn’t until her fourth season that the Lady Lions made an NCAA Tournament, something Chambers can still match). I know that he surely cannot recruit the amount of talent that she has. I also know the Lady Lions have a tradition of winning that the Nittany Lions cannot even try and boast. That said, I think tonight was the turning point…not just for this season, but for the entire Chambers tenure.
This win is one that I could not help but feel is the dawning of a legitimate era of Penn State hoops where they become the one thing we’ve all been clamoring for since I could remember…a relevant, even dangerous, basketball team.