The Nittany Lions had raised hopes by going 2-3 in a recent stretch against five straight ranked opponents. But on this night, snowy weather and a struggling opponent (Iowa, loser of six of its last seven) kept the crowd down.
When the Hawkeyes bolted out to a 21-10 lead midway through the first half, it caused an unsettling feeling of here we go again to settle over the arena.
Then something interesting happened -- Penn State punched its way back into it before the half and then dominated the second period on the way to a comfortable 65-51 victory.
We came out flat, shame on us, said guard Talor Battle, who paced the Lions with 23 points. But the difference between this year and last year is we were able to dig ourselves out and win the game.
My gut tells me we don't win this game (last year), added PSU coach Ed DeChellis, whose squad improved to 11-8 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, matching its season win total and improving (by one) on its conference victory tally from 2009-10. I don't think we had the synergy to make the plays we needed to make and hang in there and keep fighting.
They also didn't have a consistent scoring threat other than Battle. But that has changed this year with the emergence of senior forward Jeff Brooks, who matched a career-high against Iowa by going 4 of 6 from the arc on the way to 22 points.
Brooks was in the middle of things when Penn State finally woke up midway through the opening half. Down 21-10 and not doing anything particularly well, the Lions had a possession where they missed three consecutive shots but crashed the glass to come away with three offensive rebounds.
DeChellis focused on the quick shots, complaining about a lack of quality looks on the possession.
But following the third O-board, guard Tim Frazier dribbled out and hit Brooks for a wide-open 3-pointer that was good. Penn State was down 21-13. More importantly, it proved it could impose its will on the struggling Hawkeyes (now 8-12 and 1-7).
It just made us know if we play harder, we'll get the lead back, Brooks said.
PSU outscored Iowa 19-6 the rest of the half -- including a 10-0 run heading into the locker room -- to take a 29-28 lead into the final stanza.
In that stretch they battled on the glass, said first-year Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery. That changed the complexion of the game.
The Nittany Lions dominated the second half, even though they didn't slam the door on the victory until the final few minutes. Every time they appeared to be pulling away, a turnover would break momentum.
On one, Brooks threw a pass that went between Frazier's hands. Later, Brooks returned the favor by whiffing on a Frazier pass.
I told them after the game, that's just a lack of focus, DeChellis said.
Iowa was within five (50-45) after Roy Devyn Marble made a 3-pointer with 6:12 remaining. But Penn State countered with two straight buckets by Brooks, including a triple, to make it 55-45 before cruising to the victory.
The numbers in the turnaround were staggering. Iowa made 9 of its first 15 shots, but then went 10 of 36 the rest of the way. The Hawkeyes had six offensive rebounds with 4:08 left in the first half but didn't get their seventh until there was 7:07 left in the game.
Penn State, meanwhile, had six total rebounds at the 7:52 mark of the first half, but went on to forge a 30-21 lead on the boards.
While the stats were great, only one thing mattered to the Nittany Lions.
The most impressive thing is we battled back and won this game by 14 points, Battle said.
Center Jarryd Cole led Iowa with 11 points and four rebounds.
PSU center Andrew Jones had 10 rebounds, eight of them in the second half.
The Lions got two points from their bench, both from guard Cammeron Woodyard.
Penn State has made 44 of its last 46 free throws.
Attendance was listed at 6,625 but appeared to be considerably less tha that.
The Lions play host to No. 17 Wisconsin Saturday. The game tips at 4 p.m.