Seven years ago, Patrick Chambers settled down in Happy Valley with a vision and a dream.
On Thursday night, in the moments following a season-defining 79-56 win over No. 8 Ohio State, the men’s basketball coach finally caught a glimpse of what he’s been working toward.
“Honestly, that was the vision when we first came here,” Chambers said Friday morning, reflecting back on the victory. “You wanted to build something, and I love football — you guys know that, how much I love football and going and watching those games and seeing that student section, their cheers and their chants and their pom-poms and all that good stuff — and I saw that last night.”
The Penn State community has long had little to cheer about in the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions last made the NCAA tournament in 2011, back when Penn State all-star Tony Carr was just a seventh-grader. They last won a tournament game in 2001, when Carr was 3 years old.
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They’re now on the bubble of the NCAA tournament for the first time since Chambers took the helm in 2011. According to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, Penn State is currently projected as the sixth team out of the tournament.
And, with No. 6 Purdue on the schedule Sunday and the Big Ten tournament approaching, there remains plenty of opportunities for the Nittany Lions to rise. And that’s not lost on Chambers.
“If we can continue to do that,” he said, referring to improving, “then I think you’re going to see a team that’s going to be very, very difficult to beat going down the stretch here.”
Chambers often mentions football — the atmosphere, the team’s never-say-die attitude — and James Franklin was there Thursday night to relish in the victory with fans who stormed the court. It’s hard not to see the parallels between the two programs.
Many called for Franklin’s head after poor performances and a dismal 2-2 start in 2016, before an Ohio State win and a solid end to the season propelled the program to a storybook Rose Bowl berth. Many called for Chambers’ firing after an upset loss against Rider and an embarrassing performance against Northwestern, before going 6-1 and twice beating the Buckeyes.
More than 10,000 fans braved a miserable, rainy evening Thursday to fill the BJC. Chambers sees Happy Valley starting to believe — and that early vision, that 7-year-old dream, is a step closer to becoming reality.
“It shows that everybody cares about basketball, everybody cares about this group — they care about what we’re doing,” Chambers said, alluding to Thursday night’s environment. “There’s a relationship being built. ... And I think that connection will keep them coming out.
“Obviously, winning is important — but, if you dreamt of what you thought it might be, or the vision of what it might be, last night was capturing it for sure. And it can still get better — and it will.”