But Sunday afternoon against those very same Boilermakers at the Jordan Center, the narrative on Penn State had changed dramatically. So much so, in fact, that following the relatively easy 79-68 victory, there were some bones of contention.
Sure, PSU (12-10, 3-6) now owns the longest current winning streak in the Big Ten. And sure, it has captured back-to-back-to-back league games for the first time since 2009. The Lions deserve all sorts of credit for that.
We were 0-6 a couple weeks ago, third-year coach Pat Chambers said. What these kids have done to turn things around is keep working, keep digging.
That (previous) Purdue game was devastating, he added. It could have gotten ugly. It could have been a perfect storm. But they just kept plugging away.
At the same time, but for some self-inflicted wounds, Penn State could have blown the Boilermakers out of the arena Sunday. Inbounding the ball became an adventure in the second half, leading to at least three turnovers. And after keeping Purdue off the offensive glass in the first period, the Lions allowed 19 second-chance points in the second.
We're going to continue to get better and learn how to finish out close games, senior guard Tim Frazier said.
Purdue opened the game by making seven straight shots and held a 14-7 lead. But Penn State responded with a 12-0 run and, as it turned out, would never trail again.
The Lions appeared to be pulling away for good when Frazier hit a layup with 11:50 left in the game for a 51-41 lead. Then trouble hit. Boiler big man A.J. Hammons was roused from a lethargic effort to that juncture and scored on a conventional three-point play on a stick-back. It was Purdue's second offensive rebound of the game. The Boilermakers finished with 11 offensive boards and those 19 second-chance points, which is part of what kept them in the game.
Also helping was Penn State's comedy routine on inbounds plays under its own basket. It started after Hammons' put-back, when Lion forward Brandon Taylor rolled the ball in to D.J. Newbill, who promptly walked straight out of bounds to try an inbound-pass himself.
Following the blatant travel, Purdue inbounded and missed a 3-pointer, only to see Hammons grab another O-board. It turned into a layup by Errick Peck that cut the lead to 51-46. Then Lion guard Graham Woodward threw a bad pass that went off Newbill out of bounds. The Boilers responded with a triple from Peck and less than two minutes after leading by 10 State was clinging to a 51-49 edge.
You knew they were going to come back because they have so much fight in them, Chambers said of Purdue, which lost its third straight game and is now 13-9 and 3-6. I think Purdue made us do some of the things we did.
Not long after, however, he admitted, With a 10-point lead, yeah, you have to start putting teams away.
Though the Boilermakers continued to pound the offensive glass and the Lions continued to struggle getting the ball in bounds the rest of the way -- John Johnson ran the baseline when he was not allowed to, Frazier was stripped from behind after catching an inbound pass, and Taylor and Newbill seemed confused on who should be taking the ball out at one point -- Penn State did in fact salt this one away and won relatively easily.
We've been in that situation before, said Newbill, who scored a game-high 19. We stayed together, continued to fight.
After the ugly stretch above, Frazier and Newbill led a 6-0 spurt that boosted the lead to 57-49. The Boilermakers would never get closer than five from there. The Lions made 11 of their final 12 from the stripe as Purdue kept hacking to try to extend the game.
It's about getting it done, Frazier said. There's rarely any blowouts (in the Big Ten). It comes down to the end and knocking down free throws. Today, we shot it pretty well.
We're definitely on a high right now, Newbill said. We're playing some great basketball.
The 7-footer Hammons was essentially a one-man show for Purdue, with 18 points and 12 rebounds. But Boilermaker coach Matt Painter was unhappy that the big man made only 6 of 12 shots. They don't have anyone to guard him. He's got to make them pay, and he didn't do that.
Frazier had 18 and five assists for the Lions, while Taylor had 15 and eight rebounds. He has 599 career assists and needs two more to pass Freddie Barnes atop State's all-time list.
PSU outrebounded Purdue 40-36 overall and 14-11 on the offensive end.
The Nittany Lions' 12 wins match their most under the third-year coach Chambers. His 2011-12 team went 12-20.
Penn State is at No. 6 Michigan State Thursday.