By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com
student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State fell at Nebraska in Sunday's regular season finale to finish the year 19-12 and 9-9 in Big Ten play. Penn State's 19 victories and nine Big Ten wins are the most under head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lions are hardly finished.
The Big Ten Tournament begins Thursday, March 1 with the No. 7 seed Nittany Lions taking on No. 10 Northwestern at 6:30 p.m. inside New York's Madison Square Garden. The matchup marks the highest Big Ten Tournament seed Penn State has earned since Chambers took the helm in 2011.
"I don't want [Sunday's] defeat to diminish what this group has done," Chambers said. "To win 19 games and to go 9-9 [in the Big Ten], we've accomplished a lot. We're getting there and we still have a lot to play for and we can still get a heck of a lot better."
Penn State certainly faced its fair share of adversity down the stretch, but the regular season is over and there are still plenty of opportunities to seize with a fresh slate in the postseason.
The Nittany Lions aren't exactly out of the NCAA Tournament discussion just yet. Of course, winning the Big Ten Tournament would ensure an automatic berth, an at-large nod isn't out of reach.
Just look back to the 2010-11 season. Penn State's all-time leading scorer, Talor Battle, led Penn State to a 16-13 regular season record, but the Nittany Lions rattled off three straight to reach the conference tournament championship. Although they didn't beat Ohio State in the title game, the selection committee gave Penn State an at-large bid and a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With a deep run in New York, Penn State could make its way into the NCAA Tournament, even without the conference title.
"I'm crazy enough to think we've got an outside shot," Chambers said.
Without looking too far ahead, Penn State will turn all its attention toward the Wildcats. Penn State split its regular season series with Northwestern, as both teams won on their home floors.
At 15-16 on the year and 6-12 in conference play, Northwestern lost its last six consecutive games, closing out the regular season with a 77-70 loss at Iowa.
For Chambers, rebounding will be a key factor in the matchup, especially if the Nittany Lions are without leading rebounder Mike Watkins. In Penn State's loss to Northwestern earlier this season, the Nittany Lions were outrebounded 32-25.
Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens has feasted on the Northwestern defense this year though. He shot 20-for-30 from the field and scored 43 points in the two combined games against the Wildcats. His 30-point effort in the home victory against Northwestern set a career high, marking his first career 30-point game.
As for Penn State's most consistent scorer, sophomore guard Tony Carr, he didn't put up his usual scoring numbers in the regular season meetings. In two games, Carr shot a combined 7-for-23 from the field, with 12 points coming as his highest offensive point total across both outings.
However, Carr is coming off a strong offensive performance in which he scored 27 points at Nebraska to become the first Penn State sophomore to reach the 1,000 points career milestone.
That's not even factoring in the command and leadership he has on the court, something Chambers has seen grow and develop throughout the season.
Carr finished the year as the Big Ten's leading scorer, averaging 20.1 points per game. On Monday afternoon he earned All-Big Ten first team honors by both the league's head coaches and the media, making him the first Nittany Lion sophomore first team selection since Battle in 2008-09.
"I think what [Carr's] done for this team over the entire Big Ten season is pretty incredible and pretty consistent," Chambers said. "That's what you look at with your big time players, consistency, and he's done that and he's led us to victories."
Carr was one of four total Nittany Lions to earn All-Big Ten accolades as Stevens and Watkins picked up honorable mention selections. Josh Reaves was also tabbed to the Big Ten All-Defensive team.
As much as Penn State needs its best players to shine on the big stage, Chambers said the team also needs the Penn State faithful in the New York area and beyond to provide a home-court advantage at the Big Ten Tournament for the Nittany Lions.
"I hope all Penn Staters come out. Usually we have a good crowd when we go to [Madison Square Garden] and it's a good time too," Chambers said. "Put the kids to bed or get a babysitter, have a little dinner and a glass of wine and come right to Penn State basketball at 6:30. Sounds like a great night to me. If we could have a home-court advantage that would really help us out."