When Penn State played Purdue just more than two weeks ago, the Nittany Lions suffered arguably their toughest loss of the season.
PSU unraveled in the final 6.6 seconds to blow a three-point lead and lose its sixth straight game, a stretch that included three games decided by three or fewer points.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers decided he won’t relive that setback with his players as the Lions prepare for their rematch with the Boilermakers on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center. They’ve already taken any lessons they could from the heartbreaking setback at Mackey Arena on Jan. 18.
“Not looking back,” Chambers said on his teleconference Friday. “I put a lot of thought into that. We’re moving forward, it’s about us. We learned a great deal from that Purdue game.”
It’s shown for Penn State in its last two games, as the Lions made the plays down the stretch to seal close wins over Nebraska and No. 24 Ohio State. Penn State’s overtime win in Columbus, Ohio, last Wednesday night snapped an 18-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. But after losing six straight games, the Lions (11-10, 2-6) remain at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
“We can’t be happy with the upset win over Ohio State,” Chambers said. “We can’t be satisfied. We just got to keep getting better.”
Purdue (13-8, 3-5) has lost three straight games since the win over PSU, dropping the first in double overtime to Northwestern before falling to Wisconsin and Michigan.
Chamber said his players are starting to trust each other more. Freshmen and transfers, who were struggling to fill their roles, are starting to find their comfort zone.
Freshman guard Graham Woodward has started two straight games and scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Transfers John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson also left their marks in the wins.
Against Nebraska, Johnson finished with 13 points, including 10 in the first half to provide a spark off the bench. At Ohio State, Dickerson was thrust into the lineup with starter Donovon Jack in foul trouble less than three minutes into the game.
And the 7-foot SMU transfer responded.
Dickerson played a career-high 22 minutes, blocked five shots and scored four points to help keep the Lions within striking distance against the Buckeyes.
“When you add a couple guys who haven’t played, it’s gonna take a while for the chemistry and cohesion to really take off,” Chambers said. “So Jordan’s doing a good job. Again, his timing is better. You saw him sprinting the floor for offense and for defense. He had two great finishes.”
PSU could need Dickerson to step up again Sunday. Jack has fouled out of five games this season, including the first matchup against the Boilermakers and their 7-foot, 251-pound center A.J. Hammons.
Hammons scored 10 points, going 10-for-14 from the foul line, in Purdue’s 65-64 win over the Lions. His final free throw put the finishing touches on Penn State’s collapse.
PSU led 64-61 after a pair of free throws by D.J. Newbill before Purdue tied it when Terone Johnson drilled a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left.
The Lions took a timeout with 4.7 seconds left to set up a potential game-winning play. But Newbill’s inbounds pass was stolen, and Hammons was fouled on the ensuing possession to set up his game-winning free throw.
While the Lions may not dwell on the close loss to the Boilermakers, they’re ready for the possibility of another game decided in the final minutes.
“Every game from here on out is going to be the same because this league is crazy,” Chambers said. “Nebraska beats Indiana (Thursday) night.
“It’s crazy, so we’re going to be in a lot of tight games and hopefully we’ve learned our lesson from those close games.”
The close losses left PSU at the bottom of the conference. And Chambers said his players are disappointed with where they sit right now.
Consecutive wins are only a start.
“I see a team that’s focused and that has a hunger that I haven’t seen in my three years here,” Chambers said. “Does that mean we’re going to win? I have no idea. But I know we’re going to compete, I know we’re going to play hard because these guys aren’t happy where we are.”