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Penn State Basketball Takes Pride in Ending 12-Year NCAA Drought

Penn State Basketball: Andrew Funk
Photo by Penn State Athletics- Andrew Funk

CHICAGO — The disappointment at Penn State basketball finishing second in the Big Ten to Purdue had been plain on Myles Dread’s face.

Fifteen minutes later, seeing Penn State’s name on the Selection Sunday screen helped ease those feelings.

No, Penn State basketball hadn’t achieved its goal for Chicago of lifting the Big Ten trophy. But CBS’ confirmation of the the team’s first-round assignment against Texas A&M meant Dread realized his most important goal for his time at Penn State.

Whenever the senior takes his Penn State  uniform off for the last time, he’ll do so in the NCAA tournament.

“This is where I worked so hard to get,” Dread said. “Those days where you didn’t feel like getting up and working out, lifting weights or whatever the case might have been, these are the moments that you’re thinking about that get you through. This is my why.

“That’s the reason that me and Seth Lundy came back. That’s the reason Jalen Pickett, Cam Wynter, Mikey Henn and Andrew Funk all came here for. I’m just ecstatic to see that all the work that we put in together as a team wasn’t taken for granted and didn’t go unnoticed.”

Over the course of four days in Chicago, Penn State basketball earned its spot the hard way. The consensus coming to the Big Ten tournament was that Penn State needed at least one win and possibly two at the United Center to reach its first NCAA tournament since 2011.

Penn State got three wins and came one possession away from winning the Big Ten tournament title. Penn State didn’t end up needing the league’s automatic bid, but Rutgers’ relegation to the NIT confirmed that Penn State needed its performance in Chicago to seal the deal.

“You have to appreciate what these guys have done,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry  said. “Hearing your name called is special. It’s not guaranteed; it takes a lot of work to get there. We were one of those teams that had our name called.

“Sometimes when you’re a coach, you have a feeling that you’re sitting on something special. Things have got to break right, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it, but I knew we had the talent to do it really early (in the season) when I saw us practice. It took a little while for us to get going and find our stride, but this is when we wanted to play at our best.”

Penn State’s done that. Other than the secon—half meltdown against Rutgers, Penn State’s played poised, prideful basketball over its past 10 games. Penn State has won eight of its past 10, and one of the two losses came at the buzzer to a No. 1 seed in Purdue.

It’s a far cry from when Penn State sat 5-9 in the league after four straight losses to Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Maryland in February. After falling in College Park, Penn State sat at 14-11, and the drought looked likely to continue.

Except the seniors wouldn’t let it happen.

“I just talked to my team and like I remember that feeling, about to go to the Tournament,” Seth Lundy said Friday after the Nittany Lions beat Northwestern. “I was just saying to myself, I can’t go out without getting that experience. We just fought every single day. Like in practice, we just had a different mentality.

“We’ve really believed in each other, and we knew we’d be a really good team when everybody is locked in and focused. Ever since then, we’ve just been on a rampage to just get better every single day and to just go out there and play with confidence.”

The Nittany Lions showed flashes of doing that last year at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, when they again ran into Purdue to end their run. Last year, Penn State lacked the wins to merit inclusion in postseason, but they had the foundation for this group to finish what was started.

In turn, the Nittany Lions now get a chance to pay homage to their recent past. Penn State’s NCAA tournament drought ended at 12 years, but the 2020 team would have ended it three years ago if not for circumstances beyond their control. Dread and Lundy are the only players left from that squad, and they’ll now realize the dream that was denied in 2020.

“It’s really cool in a small way to be able to honor those guys,” Shrewsberry said. “I’m glad that Myles and Seth are still here, because hopefully guys can feel a part of it, guys like Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, John (Harrar), guys that didn’t get a chance to play. Hopefully they can live through Myles and through Seth, because this is their experience too.”

It’s also one that the Nittany Lions were quick to share with their fans. Penn State wasn’t the crowd favorite in any game in Chicago, but the Nittany Lion fans there made their presence felt. On Sunday, the players wanted them to feel just as much part of the destination.

“The Penn State program deserves this, and the fans do too,” Lundy said. “The fans have waited for this moment for 12 years now, and they deserve this moment just like we do. We’ve been working since this summer to get into this position, and we’re happy for the people that supported the program.”

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