Nobody wants to be in the NIT. After all the work that college players put in during the offseason and regular season, no team wants to find itself playing for a consolation prize. And, if they do, they’re probably competing in the wrong sport.
Nonetheless, many teams find themselves in that very situation. They have to decide whether to give it their all and compete for a lessened championship or pack it in and begin preparing for the offseason. It’s a tough decision for any player.
Penn State found itself in this spot following a 19-12 performance during the regular season and a trip to the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals. The Nittany Lions seemed to be on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament with just a few weeks remaining in the regular season, but quickly saw that devolve into an NIT bid after a few late season losses.
At that point, players had to face that difficult decision described above. Would the Nittany Lions give it their all and contend for an NIT title or “check out” and prepare for next season. It was something nobody could predict until the team got on the floor.
Well, fans got that answer and much, much more.
Penn State opened with a home win over Temple on March 14th and then went on the road and beat a resurgent Notre Dame team with Bonzie Colson. The Nittany Lions then added another road win (this time over Marquette), and moved on to Madison Square Garden.
And the star of Penn State’s team showed up as well. Tony Carr was cool in the first game, but scored 24 and 25, respectively, against Notre Dame and Marquette. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was nice to see the Big Ten’s scoring leader make such an impact.
Then, things got really interesting.
In New York City, Penn State opened up with an impressive 15-point win over a Mississippi State team that had compiled 25 wins on the season. Notably, those 25 wins also included wins over Alabama, Baylor, Georgia, Louisville, Nebraska, and Texas A&M. That’s an impressive list for a team playing in the NIT.
And, on Thursday, Penn State finished things off with a blowout victory over Utah to win the program’s second NIT championship in 11 appearances. The Nittany Lions last won the NIT title in 2009 with a win over Baylor and a 27-11 mark.
While there’s no debating that Patrick Chambers and Penn State would have rather been playing in the NCAA Tournament this postseason, but winning the NIT is a significant accomplishment. It’s something that the program can build around and get the fanbase excited heading into an important 2018-’19 season.
It’s also great news for Chambers, who entered this season squarely on the hot seat. This was his first real postseason appearance in seven seasons with the program and he capitalized with an NIT championship. That’s major news for a program that only has two NCAA Tournament appearances since the mid 1990s.
The NIT isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but it is something and Nittany Lion fans should be thrilled with what Chambers just accomplished.