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Penn State Basketball 2008-2009

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Penn State survives missed free throws, scores landmark win at Michigan State


Any long drought in sports, any protracted struggle that fails to bring an immediate reward, becomes more difficult with the passage of time. For eight long years, Penn State's basketball program has missed out on the NCAA Tournament, so as a 12-point lead shrank in the final minutes of Sunday's game at Michigan State, the Nittany Lions and coach Ed DeChellis had to wonder if the fates were stacked against them.
Once up 68-56 with 4:30 left in regulation, the boys from Happy Valley proceeded to crack at the free throw line. By missing three straight front ends of one-and-ones--which technically goes into the scorebook as an 0-for-3 performance, but essentially represents an 0-for-6 stat line--the Lions threw away possessions and allowed the rejuvenated Spartans to mount a furious charge at crunch time. The free-throw yips caused PSU's lead to dwindle to one point (69-68) with 12 seconds left. A sensational second half, and an all-time great performance by Penn State sniper Talor Battle (29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), were on the verge of being wasted by a program desperate to return to the Big Dance.

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Without this road win in East Lansing, the Nittany Lions' resume would still possess some gaps. The Breslin Center needed to be conquered if Penn State wanted to stop its ever-increasing drought. One could only begin to imagine how heavily hearts were pounding on the Penn State bench. DeChellis and his coaching staff did nothing wrong from an X-and-O standpoint, but because of old demon pressure at the charity stripe--a familiar nemesis of basketball coaches since the sport began--the script for a Michigan State comeback was being written on the hardwood.
Then, as suddenly as the league-leading Spartans had chipped the lead to one, the home team couldn't send this contest into overtime.
Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas, the most dependable player on the floor for Tom Izzo's team, missed a tying free throw with those same 12 ticks left on the clock. Just moments later, after Penn State's Andrew Jones III could only split a pair of free throws, Lucas missed a 17-foot fade away jumper. When Jones corralled the rebound and got fouled with 1.6 seconds left, the conquest was complete. Jones's two free throws made it official. Penn State lived very close to the edge in the stretch run of this showdown, but when the smoke cleared, the Lions had their signature win, a triumph so substantial that a merely solid conference finish (anything above .500, even just two games) should now get them into the NCAAs.
It's been a long time coming for the kids from Penn State. Thanks to the heroics of Battle--who carried this team on his back throughout the afternoon--plus lock-down defense in the final minute of regulation, the Nittany Lions might finally end the March Madness drought that has haunted the program since 2001.


By Matt Zemek
BigTen-fans.com Staff Writer



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