INDIANAPOLIS—The Penn State University locker room stood silent as players sat at their lockers, contemplating how close they were to upsetting Ohio State University in the Big Ten Championship game on
The season, which was full of surpassing preseason expectations for the Nittany Lions, came to an abrupt halt in the final game of the Big Ten season at the Conseco Fieldhouse.
After reaching its first conference championship game in the Big Ten tournament, Penn State’s glass emptied and the Buckeyes successfully defended their tournament crown.
Senior forward Jeff Brooks reclined in his chair next to his locker with a blank stare. Another senior, Talor Battle, did his best to hold his composure after the defeat. This was one task Penn State didn’t complete but later was able to celebrate an accomplishment no one predicted would happen.
Battle said he wanted more than ever to win the conference championship. He reiterated his passion for being a champion and reaching the NCAA tournament during the past season. Penn State hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2001 and was on the bubble before the Big Ten tournament began on March 10.
“It’s not deflating at all,” Battle said. “When you give it your all, you can never hold your head [down]. I’m not down at all. We didn’t get upset, we lost to a team that was really good. We competed and left it all out there.”
When the final buzzer sounded and Buckeyes players began celebrating on the court, Battle knelt down toward the baseline and saw his dream to win the conference title crushed.
He said he was proud Penn State made it to the championship game, despite predictions of being at the bottom of the conference.
The Buckeyes were able to reach the Big Ten championship game after three victories in three days. They defeated Indiana University, upset the University of Wisconsin and beat last season’s Final Four participant, Michigan State University.
Brooks said he never competed in a championship game in high school and was upset the Nittany Lions weren’t able to pull out the victory.
“It was a big moment for me to be on the losing side when that buzzer sounded,” Brooks said. “[The] only thing I [could] do is keep my head up as a senior and try to lead the younger guys and see where we are going to go from here.”
While the Buckeyes were conducting postgame interviews, the Nittany Lions didn’t have time to dwell on their loss. They began watching the NCAA tournament selection show to hear news of their reaching the postseason.
At 5:15 p.m., the Nittany Lions finally saw their name in the tournament bracket when they were matched up with Temple University in the West Region.
Battle, who mentioned he wanted to end his stellar career at Penn State with a tournament appearance, finally achieved
The team that was highly doubted to reach the postseason proved experts wrong. The Nittany Lions rejoiced when the CBS cameras showed them hugging one other and were able to exhale as they moved into
In the locker room, the mood swiftly changed from heads hanging low to Brooks smiling, Battle standing in front of his locker instead of sitting and Ohio State players Jared Sullinger and Jon Diebler coming to congratulate the team they beat an hour earlier.
Battle, the leading active scorer in the Big Ten and first conference player to record 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists, had a fulfilled look on his face while speaking with reporters.
Brooks was more vocal in the locker room after exchanging a handshake and hug with Sullinger.
“It’s just an honor hearing our name called on national television,” Brooks said. “Just going from losing that game to Ohio State kind of helps us get our confidence back.”
Penn State was the No. 10 seed in the West Region. Battle said he was proud to be in the tournament no matter what seed the Nittany Lions received. He joked they would have been proud of a No. 16 seed as long as the team got in.
The Nittany Lions’ ride in the tournament didn’t last long as they were ousted by Temple University, 66-64, in the second round on March 17. Before the NCAA tournament began, Battle was asked what it will be like when he takes off his jersey for the last time.
“That’s [going to] be a sad day [when] I realize that I won’t put on the jersey anymore and playing for Penn State,”
Brooks said he was pleased with the Nittany Lions’ season and comments he’s received from others about his future after Penn State. He said it was going to be emotional for him to look at his jersey for the last time.
“I’m going to be very emotional because of everything I went through at Penn State, on and off the court,” Brooks said. “It’s just been a journey, and a lot of people tell me it’s been a roller coaster, and right now I’m still going up. That’s a good thing to hear from other people’s perspectives.”
The five seniors— Battle, Brooks, Steve Kirkpatrick, David Jackson and Andrew Jones’—hard work paid off and they were able to end their careers at Penn State with success.
The Nittany Lions’ Head Coach Ed DeChellis, who was on the sidelines when the team won the National Invitational Tournament Championship in 2009, said his senior class was special and displayed an immense amount of passion
“They’re wonderful kids [and have] been great ambassadors for our university,” DeChellis said. “They’re all going to graduate and they’ve worked hard every day. They haven’t been a problem on and off the floor. They’ve been a joy and a great group of kids to be around, and I’m really proud of them.”