By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While Penn State knocked off Rutgers, 60-43, Saturday night in front of a packed Bryce Jordan Center, the night was about more than just basketball.
Saturday's game between the Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights marked Penn State's annual THON game. It's a night for giving back and helping the fight against childhood cancer, with every $5 student ticket sale going directly to THON. It also doesn't hurt to come out with a win, too.
"I thought it was a win-win today," head coach Patrick Chambers said postgame. "With THON, the THON game and what THON means to me personally and to our program and our players and our staff. I'm blessed I have four healthy children that are running around the halls right now and I won't forget that."
For junior guard Josh Reaves, Penn State played for more than just the team Saturday night.
"We were able to show kids with that type of illness that we're going to get it done for them," Reaves said. "I hope they had a really good time at the game with everybody. I'm just really happy that we could put on a show for them."
Penn State students were gifted exclusive "dance with us" shirts in various bright colors as they entered the game. The giveaway lit up the Bryce Jordan Center in a colorful sea of 13,677 fans, the largest crowd since 2011.
"I've never seen it like that before," Reaves said. "All those people were here for a cause and like coach said in the locker room it's a win-win."
Pregame, the concourse filled with THON families and children visiting various stations for games and prizes. Joined by her mother, McKenna Speed, a THON child, sang the national anthem brining along the crowd in unison.
"I started singing," Chambers said. "Unfortunately, and I'm embarrassed to say this, sometimes I don't and I sang today. I think a lot of people in the Bryce Jordan Center started to sing. For me, that was everything. It was an emotional beginning for sure. To know that she had the courage and the guts to get in front of 13,000 and change, get up there and sing and do the best she can, and then everybody joined in to help her along. That's what Penn Staters are all about."
As is customary with the annual THON game, the team hosted a postgame festival in the south gym for THON families after the game.
The festival was full of food, music and games of all sorts. There was corn hole, hoola hoop competitions and basketball games all happening at once. Even the Nittany Lion got in on the action, challenging children to games of one-on-one and taking pictures with fans.
The team set up a massive blow-up obstacle course that had kids entertained from start to finish. Seven-footer Satchel Pierce joined in, and struggled to get through, but eventually found his way to the end.
The team joined the party to sign autographs for the families and take fan photos as well.
Chambers entered the gym prior to his postgame press conference to a loud applause following his team's victory. He was quickly introduced and grabbed the microphone to address the crowd.
The raspy-voiced Chambers, with his vocal chords clearly tired from yelling over the raucous crowd all night, applauded the fans for their passion during the game and spoke on how proud he was to be a part of an event like this.
"It was because of you," Chambers said. "You brought the energy. You brought the noise."
The music blared once again and the party was on.
Not just a party to celebrate the win. A party to celebrate life.
As important as wins are at this point in the season to the Nittany Lions, Chambers said there's more important things in this world than the game of basketball. That's what Saturday night's THON game was all about.
"Whenever I can do anything for THON I'm going
to do it, and the fact that we got a win is nice too. It was definitely a great
day for Penn Staters," Chambers said.