Two faults that have contributed to the Nittany Lions' undoing all year -- untimely mistakes and plain old bad luck -- both figured prominently against the Boilermakers. Yet so too did the one positive trait that has prevented this year from being a complete disaster for PSU -- a never give-up attitude.
Our kids have hung in there and continued to fight and given us great effort, Coach Ed DeChellis said. For that, I am proud of them.
There was nothing other than pride on the line for Penn State going into this one. Indiana's win over Northwestern earlier in the day assured the Lions of a last-place finish in the Big Ten regular-season standings.
Meanwhile, Purdue was fighting for a share of its first league title since 1996, and had brought along hundreds of fans bent on celebrating the championship. Even without starting forward Robbie Hummel, who is out for the season following a recent ACL injury, the Boilermakers appeared to be cruising toward that crown by leading comfortably throughout the game's first 31 minutes.
The advantage was 51-39 when Keaton Grant made a 3-pointer with 8:43 remaining. Grant was on fire from the arc. Center JaJuan Johnson was controlling the paint on both ends. And PSU leading scorer Talor Battle was on the bench after falling ill during the game.
It was against that backdrop that Penn State staged yet another rally against a league power.
Chris Babb made a 3-pointer to spark a 7-0 run by the Lions to draw the deficit down to 51-46. And the margin floated between five and nine points before Babb made another triple and center Andrew Jones followed with a layup to bring PSU within 58-55 with 2:45 left.
We just settled down in the second half, took what they were giving us, Babb said.
That's the way Penn State's been all year, Purdue coach Matt Painter added. They've continued to fight. They've continued to get after it.
The teams swapped empty possessions and then the Boilermakers appeared to be wasting another one when their offense broke down as the shot clock was about to expire. E'Twaun Moore, who was 1 of 4 from the arc to that point of the game, beat the buzzer with a long heave that appeared to have too much behind it.
But it hit the backboard and went in, giving Purdue a 61-55 edge with a minute to go. The bad luck that had been an issue all year struck again.
He hit that bank shot, and it killed our spirit, PSU forward Jeff Brooks said.
Indeed, the Lions appeared to be dead when rookie guard Tim Frazier missed a layup with 43 seconds left. PSU was well under the foul limit, but began hacking to be able to put Purdue in the bonus. After the third foul in as many seconds, the Boilermakers attempted to inbound, and Frazier stole the pass. He dished inside to Brooks for a dunk to make it 61-57 with half a minute left.
Penn State fouled again following the bucket, this one putting Purdue into the bonus and sending Grant to the line for a one-and-one. He missed the first and PSU rebounded. Then he made things worse by fouling Babb on a 3-point attempt at the other end.
Babb made all three to cut the lead to 61-60 with 18 seconds left.
The Lions fouled again, this time sending Moore to the line. He made both to push the lead to 63-60 with 16 seconds to go. PSU called timeout between the two free throws to devise a play, and with the go-to guy Battle out that meant someone else would have to try to fill that role.
It turned out to be Babb, who had hit 4 of 8 triples to that point.
State ran its offense and Babb wound up with a decent look. But the 3-pointer rimmed out with seven seconds to go.
It was kind of what we drew up, he said. I tried and it didn't go in.
But the Lions still had life. Frazier rebounded the ball, and appeared to be looking to do a quick re-set for one final shot. Instead, he dribbled the ball off his foot and it went out of bounds.
Another key unforced error in a season that's been full of them.
Johnson closed things out by making one of two free throws with five seconds to go. And the Boilermakers began to hoot and holler about their Big Ten title, a celebration that carried over into the locker room.
The Lions, meanwhile, could hear what was going on as they entered their own locker room just down the corridor. Once again, the best they could do was take solace in a much smaller victory.
They fought through some things, adversity, DeChellis said of his team. I think there is a good fiber of some character. It hasn't been easy.
Penn State enters the Big Ten Tournament at 11-19 overall and 3-15 in the league. The Lions will most likely face Minnesota in a first-round game Thursday in Indianapolis. The Gophers play host to Iowa Sunday, and if they win that game will clinch the No. 6 seed at Big Tens and a first-round meeting with No. 11 PSU. If Minnesota loses Sunday and Michigan wins at Michigan State, the Wolverines will get the No. 6 seed. If the Gophers and Michigan both lose Sunday, Minnesota is No. 6. Got that? • Regardless of the opponent, Penn State's first-round game Thursday will tip at about 7:30 p.m. and be carried on the Big Ten Network.
Purdue (26-4, 14-4) enters Big Tens as the No. 2 seed and gets an opening-round bye.
DeChellis said Battle showed no indication of being sick before the game. Battle still scored 17 for the Lions, matching Babb for team-high honors.
Johnson had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Purdue while Grant added 17 points.
PSU got two points from its bench, which was one more than the bench produced in a loss at Michigan State earlier in the week.