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Lions Advance to Big Ten Tournament Championship

The Nittany Lions will play for the Big Ten Tournament Championship for only the second time in program history.



Big Ten Tournament Championship
Penn State Nittany Lions guard Andrew Funk (10) reacts after scoring during the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament game against the Northwestern Wildcats, Friday, March 10, 2023, at United Center in Chicago. Penn State won 67-65 in overtime. © Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Penn State basketball continued its historical run Saturday, beating No. 19 Indiana 77-73 to advance to the Big Ten Tournament Championship. Their third win in as many days, the Nittany Lions already upset Illinois and Northwestern to reach the semifinal round. By defeating the third-seeded Hoosiers, Penn State will advance to the Big Ten Tournament Championship for the second time in program history, and the first since 2011. 

The Nittany Lions will take on top-seeded Purdue in Sunday’s championship game, which will air at 3:30 PM EST on CBS. Though a win would give them an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Lions have already punched their ticket to the dance. Over the last 17 days, Penn State has gone 8-1, including six Quad 1 wins.

It’s clear that the Penn State Nittany Lions will be returning to March Madness for the first time in over a decade. At this point, hanging a Big Ten Title banner would be an exclamation point to a magical season.

Pickett and Lundy Lead the Way for Lions

Penn State struggled with Indiana’s size early in the game. Ten of the Hoosier’s first 12 points came from inside the paint as they jumped out to an early six-point advantage.

Coming out of the first media timeout, Penn State initially switched to a zone defense, which put stress on Indiana’s outside shooting game. With the Hoosiers in an offensive rut, the Lions used their three-point shooting to go on a 22-6 run and storm out to a 28-18 lead.

But then, the Nittany Lions went cold. Penn State went 0-4 from the field over a four-minute scoring drought as Indiana slowly pulled back into the game. Penn State’s lead was as large as 12 points but was cut to six with 45 seconds remaining in the half. Jalen Pickett’s free throws extended Penn State’s lead to 34-26 going into halftime.

Jalen Pickett (13) and Seth Lundy (11) had 24 of Penn State’s 34 first-half points. Indiana had 20 points in the paint compared to the Nittany Lions’ eight. But Penn State closed that gap with 15 points from behind the arc (5-15), whereas the Hoosiers went 0-6 from three. Penn State also went 9-9 from the foul line in the half, while Indiana went 0-1.

Too Close for Comfort

Penn State extended the lead to as many as ten points in the opening minutes of the second half. But the Lions struggled to regain the shooting rhythm they had for much of the first half. Indiana used a 13-4 run to make it a 42-41 game with 13 minutes to play. The Hoosiers would tie the game at 47 a few minutes later.

With 8:45 remaining, Andrew Funk broke a streak of nine consecutive three-pointers missed to give the Lions a five-point lead. The next time down the floor, Kebba Njie threw down a massive dunk to extend the margin to 54-47.

More importantly, the momentum slowly swung back in Penn State’s favor. As the clock ticked under four minutes to play, Funk drilled a three-pointer from the 814 area code to make it a 64-53 Penn State advantage.

Penn State led by as many as 15 points in the game’s closing minutes. But it wouldn’t be a Penn State basketball game if the Lions didn’t make it interesting. The Lions turned it over four times in the game’s final three minutes as Indiana cut the deficit to one point with 33 seconds left.

After struggling from the charity stripe throughout the Big Ten Tournament, the Nittany Lions stepped up on Saturday. The Lions went 23-26 from the line, including three in the final 17 seconds to seal the 77-73 win.

While the first two games in Chicago may not have seen his typical dominating performances, Jalen Pickett quietly took over this one. Pickett had 28 points on 9-19 shooting, with eight rebounds and four assists. He also surpassed 1,000 points in his career as a Nittany Lions.

Typically a pitiful offensive rebounding team, Penn State stepped up on the glass against Indiana’s big men in this game. The Nittany Lions had nine offensive rebounds to the Hoosiers’ seven. As a result, Penn State had 12 second-chance points to Indiana’s six. The Nittany Lions will need to replicate this on Sunday to hope to beat the towering Zach Edey and Purdue. 

On to the Big Ten Tournament Championship

Penn State basketball now has a chance to win its first Big Ten championship in program history. But to do so, it must conquer a familiar foe. The Nittany Lions have faced the Purdue Boilermakers twice this season and have lost handily both times. Penn State has pulled off some impressive wins over the last week, but taking down Purdue will be the toughest test of them all.

Winning the Big Ten would be the greatest accomplishment in the modern history of Penn State basketball. But the outcome of Sunday’s game shouldn’t diminish what Micah Shrewsberry and this team have accomplished this year.

Penn State basketball fans had high hopes coming into this season. Many figured that the talent and veteran leadership amassed in Happy Valley could be enough to get the Lions back to the big dance. The team started strong but then hit a slump early in conference play.

Less than a month ago, it looked like the same old story for Penn State basketball. The hope was there – and so was the opportunity – but in the end, the Lions would find themselves on the wrong side of the tournament bubble. Worse still, it looked like Penn State wouldn’t even reach the postseason at all.

But then, just like that, the story flipped on its head. The Nittany Lions have rattled off eight wins in nine games. It’s safe to say the Lions have become one of the hottest teams in basketball.

And it’s not like the Nittany Lions have become a significantly better team over the last month, either. At times, they’ve looked downright bad. But when the situation looked hopeless, Penn State has found a way to pull through.

Yes, we’ve turned to a new page in the book that is Penn State basketball this season. And the story isn’t over yet.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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