Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry walked to the podium following Friday night’s 69-61 loss to Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament with a sniffle and a touch of glassiness in his eyes, a sure sign of the emotions shared in what will likely be his team’s final postgame locker room of the season.
Alongside him were seniors John Harrar and Jalen Pickett. Harrar, the senior leader and heart and soul of the program, and Pickett, the newcomer who took the reins as the team’s best player, both walking with the same somber cadence and expression — with tears threatening to fall from the former’s eyes.
By the time he was set to finish his opening statement, Shrewsberry had one final message. One he had saved all season.
“It’s almost a year to the day that I got hired and did a Zoom call with these guys,” Shrewsberry said. “John was there, John was on the Zoom, and I told him, I can’t get on that Zoom call and tell you guys I love you, we’re going to do great and this and that, I don’t even know you. That’s fake, that’s phony, whatever.”
He continued, “I love these two dudes. I’ll go to war with them any day of the week.”
Then he turned to Harrar and said it one more time.
“I can say it now after a year, I’m going to miss you. I love you, Big Fella.”
The statement — and the game before it — marked the end of an era for Penn State basketball, and the beginning of another.
Harrar and the rest of the 2021-2022 team set the tone for the rest of Shrewsberry’s tenure over the past 12 months and it culminated Friday night with the type of performance the group has been known for.
The Nittany Lions pushed one of the best teams in the country for 40 minutes in a game that wasn’t indicative of the wide talent gap between the two programs.
Harrar and Pickett led the way for the program from a scoring standpoint, combining for 31 of its 61 points, but also from an emotional standpoint.
Pickett had played most of the team’s minutes this season and did so against the Boilermakers, but remained heavily engaged when he wasn’t on the court.
As he stood at the scorer’s table early in the first half, Harrar slammed home a dunk — causing the senior guard to pump his fist and pound the table, encouraging his teammates.
“Each game you play in this tournament is a big game,” Pickett said. “Of course you’ve got to bring the energy and emotion and we want everyone on our team to bring their own energy because it basically felt like a home game for Purdue with all their fans. … We’re always here for each other on the bench. I’m going to give success to my guys and give support whenever I can.”
The fire he displayed and the effort he put forth was the norm for the Nittany Lions in the game. They locked in defensively, they celebrated good plays and they poured their emotions onto the court while keeping up their intensity.
As Shrewsberry has said all season, his team is gritty — not pretty. They grinded down the Boilermakers, stagnating a high-powered offense and at times limiting one of the most explosive athletes in the country in Jaden Ivey, a likely top-five pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Despite the loss, Harrar left the court with a smile on his face, a much different look than the one he wore after playing his final game at the Bryce Jordan Center just under two weeks prior. The sadness enshrouded him as he left the floor that day, but this was different. He walked off with a smile — an acknowledgement of sorts that he had given all he had, even if he says he has more.
“You know, that’s the rule of more to give,” Harrar said. “I still got more to give. I don’t know where it is, but I still got more to give.”
In the end, though, the effort wasn’t enough to earn the win. But it was enough to continue building off what’s already been laid down, and Harrar already has an idea of what all of that building looks like when it comes to fruition.
“And right behind you is going to be a Big Ten championship, Braeden Shrewsberry,” Harrar said, motioning to the 2023 commit and son of the head coach.
And where will the senior be when that time comes?
“I know Coach always says that he wants me to keep playing, but I’m flying out to that game. I hope it’s right here and I’ll be right behind the bench cheering for him and that will be one of the happiest moments of my life, seeing Penn State win a Big Ten championship.”
original source: How Penn State men’s basketball ended one era and started another with a loss to Purdue