Nittany Lion Chris Babb was right in his face.
As the ball drifted through the air toward the basket, time seemed to slow down for the PSU players. Riding a string of 10-straight losses, this frozen moment allowed them to ponder their fate.
I kid you not, when it left his hand, I just saw it going in; I pictured it going in, guard Talor Battle said.
I was preparing for a miss, forward David Jackson countered. I knew we were going to overtime. I knew this was going to be our day.
Alas for Penn State, this was not its day -- again. Battle's glass-half-empty vision trumped Jackson's glass-half-full optimism as Westbrook's shot zipped the net and ripped the hearts out of the crestfallen Nittany Lions.
In dropping the 66-64 decision, Penn State set a school standard of futility to start a Big Ten season. The Lions are now 0-11 in the conference, topping (or bottoming?) the previous high of 0-10 set in 2003. They are 8-15 overall.
It's not about our record [at this point], PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. It's about us trying to win a game. We've got to find a way to win.
It looked like they might finally have cracked that formula late in this game. The Gophers (14-8, 5-5) led throughout thanks to the dominating post play of Ralph Sampson III, but never put any serious distance between themselves and the Lions.
Down 62-56 with less than a minute and a half remaining, Penn State wrapped 3-pointers from Jackson and Battle around a pair of Damian Johnson free throws to climb within 64-62. On the ensuing inbound pass, Lion guard Tim Frazier tied up Westbrook with 35 seconds left. The possession arrow pointed PSU's way.
Battle drove to the hole but Sampson swatted the ball out of bounds. Battle went at Sampson again, only to be snuffed again. But this time the loose ball found its way into the hands of PSU's Jeff Brooks near the foul line, and he fed Battle in the paint for a layup just out of Sampson's long reach.
The game was tied 64-64 with nine seconds and change remaining. Though he had two timeouts, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith did not use one. His rationale: PSU was out of timeouts, and he didn't want to give the Lions a chance to set their defense.
On the inbound play, Battle prevented Westbrook, the point guard, from getting the ball. So shooting guard Devoe Joseph took the pass and brought the ball up the floor.
He dribbled to the top of the key, then turned and passed to Westbrook while screening Battle. Babb rotated out, which was a good thing for the Lions because he is taller and a better defender than Battle.
And indeed, Babb stuck right with him.
I don't think Chris could have defended it better, Battle said.
Westbrook was 4 of 11 from the field at the time and 0-5 from the arc. But Smith was comfortable with the rock in his leading scorer's hands.
That's his game, he's an excellent one-on-one player, Smith said. He's got a heart of a lion.
And he broke the hearts of a whole team of them, even as some in their number saw it coming.
When it left [his hand], I knew it was in, just from my angle, DeChellis said. And that's hard, watching it go in. But he was contested. Chris got a hand up and pushed him out. He made a shot. That's kind of how things have gone for us.
Battle led the Lions with 20 points, five assists and five steals but also had four turnovers. Jackson had 20 points and six rebounds and Babb added a dozen points.
Starting guard Bill Edwards did not play for the Lions due to an ankle sprain. Brooks started in his place and three points, five rebounds and three assists.
Freshman guard Tim Frazier had one of his better games in Big Ten play. He made 3 of 4 shots for seven points to go along a pair of assists and a steal in 21 minutes.
Sampson had 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead four Gophers in doubles.
Minnesota improved to 14-8 and 5-5 after winning for only the second time in its last six games.
Penn State has a mid-week bye before facing Michigan State at the BJC next Saturday.
Though the bad weather hurt attendance (the announced crowd was 10,291, but that was tickets sold), PSU sold more than 5,000 raffle tickets for the throw-back uniforms the Lions were wearing. At two bucks a pop, that means more than $10,000 was raised for Coaches vs. Cancer.