Win Anyway: Penn State Basketball Lays A Foundation For Program's Future In Season-Opening Win

By Vincent Lungaro on November 12, 2021 at 8:30 am
Nov 10, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry talks with his team against the Youngstown State Penguins during the second half at the Bryce Jordan Center. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Micah Shrewsberry didn't get much sleep before Penn State's opening night matchup with Youngstown State.

It wasn't because of a great fear that his team would lose the game though that was a small part of it, as Shrewsberry recalled back to his Butler days and losing to Youngstown State the year Butler made it to their first Final Four.

After all, he's been on the bench for plenty of big games with the Bulldogs, Purdue, and the Boston Celtics. Final Four games. Games with Big Ten title implications. The Eastern Conference Finals. He wouldn't be a head coach if he wasn't even a little bit wary of the opposition. 

This is all relatively new for him, though. It was mostly an eagerness to get going that kept Shrewsberry up the night before tip-off. Eagerness to get his career in Happy Valley officially started as he takes on the challenge of getting Penn State basketball on a much larger map.

"I was just anxious to start,” Shrewsberry said after the game, a 75-59 win. “A lot of that was nervousness.”

One might call it positive nervous energy. 

There was a bit of that in his team's performance, too. Penn State turned the ball over a few times more than its head coach would have liked, the Nittany Lions didn't shoot particularly well from three (6-of-20), and the Penguins came out firing with an 80-percent field goal percentage by the under-12 timeout.

But there was also notable confidence displayed by his team.

Penn State grew into the game defensively, and Youngstown State ended up finishing with a 39 percent field goal percentage. Shrewsberry has talked about wanting his team to hold opponents to less than 60 points a game. They accomplished that by holding the Penguins to 59.

The offense was stagnant at times, but there was a clear idea of how the Nittany Lions wanted to play offensively. Move the ball, drive to the basket, and find the open man. Take the game to the opponent. The result was a season-opening triumph, getting Shrewsberry his first blue and white win. While tougher tests await, you couldn't have asked for a better start to a new era.

"I said it the other night, gritty not pretty, and that’s who we want to be and I thought we were that tonight," Shrewsberry said.

After the game, both Seth Lundy and Sam Sessoms – two players who could have transferred elsewhere this summer and undoubtedly would have received plenty of interest from other programs – highlighted the fact it was a special night for them to help get Shrewsberry his first win.

It's clear the former Celtics assistant has already made his mark with this team. With a large exodus of transfers during the summer in the wake of Pat Chambers/Jim Ferry exit, this group of returnees, inexperienced youngsters, and veteran newcomers needed to buy into Shrewsberry's vision in order for Penn State to have any hope of being competitive this year.

It's just a one-game sample size (a Top-25 recruiting class signed on Wednesday doesn't hurt either), but the results are only positive thus far.

"I was happy to be a part of it. Coach Shrews is a really good coach. I’ve played with plenty of coaches, they all were good as well, but in the short amount of time I’ve spent with Coach Shrews I’ve learned so much about the game in every aspect," Sessoms said postgame.

The players doused Shrewsberry with a water bottle bath in the locker room after the win. This was why, the first-year coach joked, he was a little late in getting to the media room for his press conference.

He deflected the night being about him by saying that he wanted that win for his players for sticking with him, for joining this program, and for the work they've put in throughout the buildup to his first season.

"They wanted to celebrate for me, I wanted to celebrate for them because they deserve it," Shrewsberry said. "These guys have been through a lot, they fought through a lot, they’ve stayed together and we’re going with the mantra of win anyway."

That bond between player and coach is a great foundation for the rest of this season, and the years ahead for a program that looks to change its perception on a national level.

"I can feel his presence as a coach improving my game. To be part of the first win, it’s a great experience. I truly believe that he’s going to make Penn State one of those schools, as far as basketball, and I have all the faith in him and the rest of the team. To be part of that, you can’t take that away. So later on this year, a few years after that, when we’re winning – we were kind of like the foundation of it. You can’t take that away from us."