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Feb. 13, 2014
By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Down 65-56 with 2:08 to play inside Assembly Hall on Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions had their backs to the wall on the road.
The Lions had trailed by as much as 13 in the latter stages of the ballgame, and the 17,472 boisterous fans appeared to be on their way to cheering Indiana on to a victory.
But it's not about the opponent, as head coach Patrick Chambers has said for weeks. It's about the Nittany Lions and what they can control. Never showing an ounce of panic down the stretch, Tim Frazier sank two free throws at the 2:06 mark to kick-start a remarkable rally on the road.
Frazier's two foul shots trimmed the Nittany Lion deficit down to seven (65-58). On the ensuing Indiana possession, the Lions settled into a full-court press on the out of bounds play. The Hoosiers never got the ball in bounds.
Indiana missed a 3-pointer on its next possession. Geno Thorpe snagged the defensive rebound, and Taylor stepped up, again, with a mid-range jumper from 12 feet, which pulled the Nittany Lions to within two (65-63) at the 1:07 mark.
The Lions forced two more Indiana turnovers before Ross Travis connected on a free throw attempt with 14 seconds to play, slicing the Hoosier lead down to just one (65-64). The full-court press went right back to work, as D.J. Newbill intercepted the inbounds pass with 12.3 seconds to play.
Coach Chambers called timeout to set up a play.
"We drew up a play, and obviously D.J. (Newbill) hit the game-winner at Ohio State. He was a great decoy," Frazier said. "He came up and back-cutted. Sheehey stayed with him, and I had one-on-one on the left side. I just tried to go to the basket as hard as I can."
Frazier fielded the inbounds pass in the backcourt with Yogi Ferrell defending. He wasted little time going right at Ferrell. Frazier powered into the lane for a hanging lay-in to hand Penn State its first lead (66-65) of the night with 6.1 seconds to play.
Indiana called timeout to set up one final attempt.
"We just tried to slow Yogi (Ferrell) down. We figured they were going to go to him," Chambers said. "We wanted to slow him down and switch everything. Our guys executed beautifully. They did a really nice job."
Ferrell's contested last-ditch attempt sailed off the glass and iron, sealing an improbable comeback for the Nittany Lions on the road.
"We just continued to fight," Frazier said. "Our staple is attitude. We decided to keep a great attitude the whole second half. The balls bounced our way. We made crucial stops and we made crucial buckets."
The Nittany Lions never quit. With the deck stacked against them down the stretch, they played even harder.
"The kids played so hard," Chambers said. "They never gave up. The huddles were fantastic. They just kept looking at each other (and saying), `let's keep getting stops, let's keep digging, don't' worry about the refs, don't worry about the environment.' We just controlled what we could control. They executed. Our guys did a good job. I don't think it was Indiana. We always say that it is about us, it's not about the opponent."
After coming off a tough home loss against Illinois on Sunday and then trailing by 13 in the second half on Wednesday, it would have been easy for the Lions to pack it in and head home to Happy Valley. But that's not in the DNA of Chambers or the players on the roster. The relentless approach in every drill at practice and on the game floor, regardless of what the score is, speaks volumes about the character of the Nittany Lions.
"These kids are so resilient," Chambers said. "We had some good practices. We had the best shootaround today. We went hard. We knew what we wanted to do. We knew the gameplan. Obviously, we didn't do a great job with it for 36 minutes, but we started getting stops late in the second half. We did some good things. But it is a credit to their character."
The ball bounced Penn State's way down the stretch inside Assembly Hall, but you make your own luck. Penn State's attitude and effort in the clutch moments won Wednesday's game in a difficult environment.
"We might get knocked down a lot, but these guys keep punching and keep getting back up," Chambers said. "We just need to be the best team that we can be by the end of the year."
The Nittany Lions now look ahead to Saturday's 1 p.m. matchup against No. 15 Iowa in the Bryce Jordan Center.