Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, March 12, 2015
CHICAGO — D.J. Newbill pumped his first, let out a huge smile, and struck a Superman-like pose to the United Center crowd.
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The Nittany Lions are the 2015 Big Ten tournament's Cinderella.
Sure, some people had Penn State winning its tourney opener vs. struggling and No. 12 Nebraska. No one, outside of maybe Patrick Chambers, his players and Penn State fans, figured the Nittany Lions would beat fifth-seeded Iowa, which was riding a six-game winning streak.
But they did.
It wasn't pretty at times. In fact, it was downright ugly at moments, but Newbill and the Nittany Lions downed Iowa, 67-58, and are headed to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and a matchup vs. No. 4-seed Purdue awaits.
"I think everyone knows that when they play us, it's going to be a dogfight," Newbill said following the game. "That's just how we're going to play."
Penn State forced 12 turnovers, seven of which were by the Hawkeyes' two point guards, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemens.
"Our game plan was to try and slow him (Gesell) down," Chambers said. "If we could slow him down, we thought that would affect the flow of their offense."
That it did. The Nittany Lions' aggressive defense held Iowa to 26 percent from the field. The Hawkeyes shot just 3-of-15 (20 percent) from 3-point range, which is 14 percent below their season average.
Now, Chambers' team faces a Purdue team that came back to beat it in dramatic fashion back Jan. 17 in State College.
Leading by three with less than six seconds remaining in regulation, Penn State elected to foul instead of allowing Purdue a potential game-tying 3-point attempt. Jon Octeus missed both free throws, but Kendall Stephens grabbed the loose-ball rebound, stepped back behind the 3-point line and drilled a game-tying 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.
The Boilermakers went on to win the game in overtime, handing the Nittany Lions their fifth straight loss.
"I think we took something from that loss, and every close loss," Penn State senior Ross Travis said. "Close loses hurt the most, but those are the games we can also take the most from and learn from that."
Penn State will attempt to do that when its gets a rematch with Purdue at 2:30 p.m. ET Friday.
West Lafayette is approximately two hours from Chicago, which means there should be plenty of Purdue fans in the stands at the United Center.
But it's March Madness time, and if we've learned anything from this time of year, it's that fans love an underdog. And Penn State is just that.
"I was hoping we would be playing our best in January," Chambers said. "I was hoping it would be February. Well, it just so happens to be March. And I'll take it."