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Penn State Basketball

Smeltzer: Remember Shrewsberry’s Post-Rutgers Words if Penn State Goes Dancing

Penn State basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry January 21, 2023 David Hague/NSN

If Penn State basketball makes it to the NCAA Tournament, Sunday’s 81-59 win over Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center will be remembered as a big deal.

Perhaps the most memorable thing about Penn State’s domination of Juwan Howard and co. was its 18-0 first half run.

As most 18-0 runs do, this affected the game’s outcome.

Before the run, Penn State led by one. In case you can’t do the math, the team led by 19 after the run.

Beyond the box score, how the run is more impressive.

Mike Henn, a seventh-year senior who had been behind a true freshman on the depth chart and got the start Sunday, nailed two 3-pointers. Seth Lundy, who always starts, hit a 3 that was a minor miracle. Andrew Funk ended the run in grand fashion with a three-point play.

The 18-0 run was something else, and if Penn State catches fire in February, that 3:38 stretch likely will be pinpointed by many as the period that started at all.

But I’ll think back to a press conference from nearly five nights prior as the turning point. More on that later, but first, I wanna talk about James Franklin.

Franklin’s infamous “elite” press conference has been discussed and discussed and discussed to the point where plenty of Penn State fans are sick of hearing about it even when it’s relevant to the current football program. If, for some reason, you don’t know what I’m talking about, here it is.

So when that speech gets referenced in an article that isn’t about Penn State football, it’s going to be even more nauseating, and I apologize for that.

To be clear, this column won’t be a deep comparison of Penn State football and Penn State basketball. No, this will be more about coaches publicly criticizing their teams how those teams respond.

Franklin’s speech got many people talking. Look at the numbers for my friend Mark’s above tweet. If Penn State had followed it by going on a terror, namely winning its last seven games and finishing 11-1, many would have looked back on that speech as the kick in the ass the program needed.

Instead, the team went out the next week and got upset by Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. Three weeks later, Penn State got walloped by Michigan 42-7 in “The Big House.” Finally, the team finished an underwhelming 9-4 with a Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky. In the years since, Penn State football’s had two good seasons, two bad ones and no Big Ten Championships or College Football Playoff berths. So instead of Franklin’s speech being looked at as a pivotal moment, it’s a polarizing aspect of a polarizing career.

Now, back to Penn State basketball and its coach, Micah Shrewsberry. Shrewsberry went off in Piscataway Tuesday night and used the word “soft” more than once. Here’s a except.

“At some point in time, you gotta stand up,” Shrewsberry said. “At some point in time, you have to have some pride, and right now, we don’t have any pride. I told them that. What I’m saying to you, I told them exactly this in the locker room. We need some prideful defenders. That’s on me.”

Now, this speech wasn’t all that similar to Franklin’s.

Franklin’s speech was after a one-point loss to Ohio State at home. Shrewsberry’s speech followed a 20-point loss to Rutgers in New Jersey. Franklin’s speech was not just about the game, but the state of the program in general. Shrewsberry touched on some big picture issues, but mainly, the talk came across as a reaction to a bad day at the office.

Another difference is that a lot more people saw Franklin’s speech and thus formed opinions because, well, Penn State football is a bigger deal than Penn State basketball. This is a fact of life that has been well-known since James Buchanan was our president and isn’t going to change.

James Earl Jones will be president before Penn State basketball is a bigger deal than Penn State football, and there’s nothing Penn State hoopers can do to change that.

But what Penn State’s players could control was how they responded to being embarrassed at Rutgers and ripped by their coach.

Their response was beating the living hell out of Michigan.

Now, Shrewsberry’s team is still on the bubble. Big Ten play is only halfway over, and the team is a respectable but hardly amazing 5-5 in the league. Penn State has been moving in and out of .500 for three weeks, and will likely fall back out Wednesday night after it plays at No. 1 Purdue. But if this program makes it to “the dance” for the first time since 2001, remember what Shrewsberry said in  Piscataway.

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