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Penn State’s defeat to Rider leaves the Lions lost for words

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A once promising season is hanging on by a thread after an unexpected non-conference loss

NCAA Basketball: Rider at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

When an organization has some bad or upsetting news to release they typically complete what the media refers to as a ‘news dump’. Occurring on a Friday evening or around a major holiday or event, the hope is to avoid all scrutiny and the public’s attention by sneaking the information out when everyone is too busy to notice.

This past Friday, Penn State committed the sports equivalent of a news dump when the Nittany Lions lost an inexcusable game to lowly Rider before a sparse and student-less crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Like most of Nittany Nation, I considered a home game against a sub-150 KenPom team to be a foregone conclusion. To that extent I bypassed sitting down to watch the game live, electing to enjoy the company of some good friends over some good drinks to celebrate the holiday weekend.

When I caught the final score later that evening, a triple check was necessary to make sure that the nights tequila shots and IPAs weren’t causing me to see wonky and weird things.

Sadly my friends Jose Cuervo and Jim Beam hadn’t tricked me. Penn State did indeed lose.

Even sadder though is that this type of outcome isn’t the least bit surprising. Penn State basketball has made losing ugly games to unexpected teams an art form. For Penn Staters, a defeat to Rider is just part of the recurring nightmare that pops up again and again, season to season.

Watching a masochistic, tape-delayed viewing of the game was like being visited by the ghost of Christmas past. While Penn State doesn’t have a rich tradition of successful seasons, the few that do exist all have a loss that feels eerily similar to what happened Friday night.

In 2008-’09, it was Jamelle Cornley and the Lions losing a double OT game to a bad Iowa team on the last day of the regular season to have an almost assured NCAA Tournament berth ripped away from them.

Come 2010-’11, it was a head scratching loss to Maine at home that if not for a miraculous Big Ten Tournament run would have surely played a role in keeping the Lions from dancing.

The loss to Rider was a ‘Right Click-Copy-Paste’ of the aforementioned disasters.

What’s frustrating though is that this version of the Lions, one that’s taken seven years to construct and perfect, was suppose to be different. This was the most talented roster that Penn State had ever assembled. This was the team that was going to turn the corner. The time was now for Nittany Lion basketball.

Or so we were told.

Now a once promising season is on life support far sooner than anyone could have expected.

Pat Chambers gambled by crafting an incredibly soft non-conference schedule, one seeking quantity over quality in the wins department. Add in a disappointing loss to NC State earlier this year and that plan looks to be busted.

The one thing that Penn State has in its favor though is that it bottomed out early enough that there is still a lot of basketball left to be played.

But that’s where the good news starts and stops.

With a margin of error that’s paper thin, Penn State has no more room left to stumble. Any unexpected or uninspired loss during Big Ten play would be the knockout punch to its season. And by not meeting preseason expectations Pat Chambers could find himself exiting State College at the end of the year as Sandy Barbour hits the reset button on the never-ending process of building a basketball program in Happy Valley.

One way or another fans of Nittany Lion basketball deserve better. They’ve suffered through lean year after lean year. They’ve waited patiently for an NCAA Tournament berth that has yet to materialize. They’ve watched some remarkable off the court progress occur only to be disappointed when the leather meets the hardwood.

Something has to give. Something needs to happen. It’s on the coaches and players now. The got themselves into this mess and they now need to be the one’s to get them out of it.

For everyone’s sanity in State College, here’s hoping they do just that.