Even for the coach of a rebuilding team, things weren't going great for Patrick Chambers before last Saturday.
Penn State had just been blown out by Iowa, 73-49, for its fourth consecutive loss. While the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes are clearly at different ends of the spectrum in the Big Ten, it wasn't an encouraging sign. The Lions looked sluggish, unfocused and shot a dreadful 30 percent from the field.
Chambers job certainly wasn't in jeopardy, as his recent recruiting prowess has bought him some more time. But once again, there were plenty of Nittany Lions fans becoming frustrated with the team's perceived lack of improvement.
And then last Saturday happened. The Nittany Lions played with their usual energy against Indiana, and (somewhat amazingly) actually held on to a lead and beat the Hoosiers, 68-63.
Sure, Indiana was ranked just 22nd at the time and was missing James Blackmon Jr., but it was still a big win for Penn State. The Nittany Lions hadn't beaten a ranked team all season, and seemed to be switching between challenging good teams before losing and just being blown out.
Credit the defense for holding the Hoosiers to 36 percent shooting and credit Brandon Taylor for his terrific 24-point, six-rebound performance. More importantly, credit the entire team for not falling apart when Indiana tied the game at 58 in the final minutes. Most Penn State teams would have crumbled in that situation.
It was probably the Lions first big win since beating Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament last season. But what will it mean moving forward? It's unlikely to spark a crazy run toward post-season success, but it will hopefully give players enough confidence to finish the regular season strong.
Yeah, big wins give teams more confidence, everyone knows that. But Penn State has an interesting mix of beatable opponents and ranked teams in its remaining seven games. A strong finish here could spark a solid showing at the conference tournament and hopefully help the Lions finish with a good overall record.
Right now, the Lions are 12-12 with remaining games against Nebraska (twice), Iowa, Rutgers, Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois. The only games really expected to be losses are against the Hawkeyes and Spartans, meaning the Lions could conceivably be 17-14 going into the tournament. For a team that finished 18-16 last year and was expected to be much worse, that would be pretty good.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. The Lions could blow a game to Rutgers or lose to teams like Illinois and Northwestern and all of a sudden that final record is going to look much worse. It's happened before and it could happen again.
That's why you've got to hope that the win over Indiana keeps Penn State driven enough to beat the teams it should beat and maybe even upset Iowa or Michigan State. Crazier things have happened.
Chambers has been through a lot during his tenure but he seems to be doing the best he can with this year's crop of players. It would be a shame if the season ended poorly and it reflected badly on him yet again. Hopefully the Lions can prevent that from happening.