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December 14, 2013

Return to Wreck

Knocking down a 3-pointer from the wing with 16 minutes, 12 seconds left to play versus Princeton at Rec Hall, Tim Frazier and the Nittany Lions took a commanding 44-26 lead to rapturous cheers.

In front of the 6,188 fans gyrating to create a party-like atmosphere in the gym that hasn't seen a Penn State men's basketball game within its walls in 17 years, seemingly nothing could go wrong for the Nittany Lions.

Though the Nittany Lions and visiting Tigers traded buckets, a late-game shooting spree and a complete Penn State collapse helped Princeton deal a tough 81-79 loss to shell-shocked head coach Patrick Chambers and his team.

"We're a free throw away, a stop away, from being sitting up here celebrating, because it should be celebrated," Chambers said, thanking all those who helped facilitate an undeniably compelling environment. "What went on here today is amazing."

Certainly, the Tigers will be feeling that way as they return to New Jersey.

With the Nittany Lions still leading 60-42, a Princeton team that had been entirely inept shooting sprung to life. Finishing regulation on a 24-6 run, the Tigers were able to force overtime and ultimately, the win.

Starting with a Will Barrett 3-pointer, the Tigers unloaded a barrage of 3-balls, converting on 5-of-6 from beyond-the-arc and 7-of-9 from the floor. Sensing the impending run as his own team struggled to convert layups and free throws while coughing up four turnovers, Chambers said he saw his team simply tighten up.

"They had some open ones. It just takes a little while for those guys to get going," he said. "On any given night, it could be anybody. We knew Will Barrett really could get it going and he did.

"I feel bad for our players. They really wanted to come in here and perform well and play well, and maybe that's what happened at the end there. Too much pressure put on these kids to excel and play well in Rec Hall that they were a little tight at the end there."

Senior point guard Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, tying with a team-high 24 points each, weren't immune. Guilty of a combined 13 of the Nittany Lions' 20 turnovers (after averaging just nine per game as a team this season), Newbill said the game never felt like it was slipping away from their grasp.

"I thought we were going to win that game," he said. "I think everybody in the huddle thought we were going to win that game. They made shots and they made us make mistakes and they made us pay for it."

Even with the breakdown against the Tigers' highly-effective 1-3-1 defense, the Nittany Lions still had plenty of opportunity to emerge with the win in front of an electric atmosphere seemingly ready to burst at the seams throughout.

Leading 64-55 with just two minutes to play, another Barrett 3-pointer (24 points, 8-of-13, 6-of-11 3-pointers) cut the Lions' lead to six, then three just a minute later as he knocked down another. Armed with a three point lead and an opportunity to extend it to five, Penn State forward Ross Travis missed one of a pair of free throws with just 34 seconds left to play.

Trading free throws, with just 13 seconds to play, two Spencer Weisz made free throws left the Nittany Lions and Tigers tied for the first time since the game's opening moments.

With one shot remaining to earn a win in regulation, a Frazier 3-pointer clanked off the rim to force it into overtime.

Immediately going down by 5 on a Hans Brase layup, a Frazier turnover and another Barrett 3-ball, the Nittany Lions tried to play catch-up, but simply couldn't get close enough with ample time remaining. Though Princeton again provided a last-ditch opportunity, trailing 81-79, an Allen Roberts Hail Mary to Frazier landed in the fifth-year senior's hands.

Owning enough room to get off a shot near the basket, the floater landed just short, clanking off the rim and to the floor as Rec Hall collectively sat stunned. Though Frazier and Chambers seemed to be looking for a foul call on the play, Frazier said afterward that he should have made the shot.

"Even if I did get fouled, the call could have gone either way, but I still should have made the shot," he said.

Said Chambers, "That's exactly what I wanted. It's unfortunate it comes down to that. He's a fifth-year senior and that's going to weigh on him - the missed free throw, the missed layup at the end - that will weigh on that kid. I feel for him.

"He was so proud to play in this building. My team was so proud to be here. I've never felt it like that before about the basketball program. Twenty turnovers, when you're averaging nine. I think they just tried to do too much."

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, meanwhile, admitted afterward that at the 10 minute mark, down 20 points, he spent time wondering whether or not his team would be able to escape State College ahead of the snow storm blanketing the area on Saturday afternoon.

Converting off the Nittany Lions' 20 turnovers for 25 points, though, the Tigers were able to improve to 8-1 on the season while sending Penn State to an 8-4 record leading into a week off. Penn State returns to action next Sunday against Mount St. Mary's at the Bryce Jordan Center (2 p.m.).

Clearly dispirited by the gut-wrenching loss, Chambers still thanked all of those who made the big event a possibility.

"It was an event. Obviously the outcome isn't great, but man, that was awesome. To be a part of that was just amazing," he said. "My staff is amazing. They did an incredible, incredible job of putting together a first class event.

"We're headed in the right direction, we're doing all the right things, we just gotta keep fighting and keep getting better and do a better job finishing games."










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