It’s hard to have any sort of coherent thought about a basketball game that ends like Penn State’s 73-67 win over Duquesne on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Tied at 67, Lamar Stevens was fouled with five seconds left and was preparing to shoot two free throws. This was something that Penn State was once again struggling to do successfully. The Nittany Lions — up to that point — were 11-of-20 from the line.
Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot took it upon himself to argue the call, or rather, throw a small personal riot, earning himself two technicals and an ejection from the game.
So, in total, six free throws eventually came Penn State’s way.
And of course — because why not? — the Nittany Lions made all six, winning 73-67 and in turn beating the game’s spread of five points.
A heck of a way to end it.
Back on the court for the previous 39 minutes and 55 seconds, Penn State looked like the team it has looked like for most of the year. Talented but inconsistent. Quick but prone to turnovers. For every good thing this team does, its youth catches up to it and causes issues.
So in turn, Penn State found itself trailing 39-32 at halftime, still shooting better from the floor but not better from the line.
Rasir Bolton continued to play well with 16 points while Stevens seemed intent on carrying the Nittany Lions across the finish line with 25 of his own and 10 rebounds. Myles Dread added 12 points, but aside from Mike Watkins pulling down 12 rebounds, there was not much else to speak of. Even Watkins, usually reliable, went 1-for-6 from the field.
The result was every Penn State game you’ve seen this year. The Nittany Lions should have won with fewer dramatics but were unable to. It was close all the way, Duquesne leading by as many as seven but never really pulling away. Stevens had a chance to ice it late but couldn’t.
It was all too familiar.
However, it did harken back to Penn State’s loss to Indiana, a game where the little things once again got in the way. Stevens sitting at the podium following the loss mentioned, almost to himself, that he could have done more and will have to do more.
“I just think I can impact the game in a lot more ways,” he said at the time. “I thought I had missed opportunities, I’m not shooting a great percentage from three, I think that’s something that I can improve on. So as long as I stay in the gym. There is always room for growth, I can go back and watch the film to find ways that I could have done something better. There’s always times where you can do things better.”
It was at that moment that Stevens felt the burden that so many of Penn State’s biggest names have carried, the idea that they have to do it themselves. Not for a lack of trust, but just a desire to leave no room for doubt. This coming from a guy who has scored 20+ in six of the seasons’ 11 games.
But in reality this team is not lacking the talent to help Stevens carry that load. There is a pretty easy argument to be made that this is Pat Chambers’ most talented team. The freshmen look the part, the veterans have the experience. It ought to all come together.
So far, at 6-5, a record that is the result of many different factors, there is also an argument to be made that it has fallen short of its potential. That this team ought to be better than it is, and that consistency is an issue not of talent but of coaching and experience. How fast one can erase the absence of the other might determine Penn State’s season.
The good news for Chambers and Stevens: the year is long and wins are wins.
The bad news: relying on coaches losing their cool to pull out a last second victory is a low probability play.
Penn State hits the road to play at Alabama at 9 p.m. Friday on the SEC Network.