INDIANAPOLIS -- The ugliest game in Big Ten history was still a thing of beauty to Penn State.
Penn State shot 33 percent from the field. And won.
Penn State shot 25 percent form 3-point range. And won.
Penn State scored 22 points in the final 32:55. And won.
Why? Because Wisconsin was worse. The Badgers were a ghastly 15 of 51 from the field, 2 of 21 from 3-point range. Even by the aesthetically challenged standard of Bo Ryan basketball, this was spectacularly hideous.
But Wisconsin remains an NCAA tournament team -- and now maybe Penn State is one as well. The Nittany Lions were on the bubble coming in here, and their two wins give them an argument for inclusion into the field of 68.
Coach Ed DeChellis certainly believes his team is in.
“Yes,” was his emphatic answer when asked. “We’ve got enough top 50 wins, I think. We deserve to be in the tournament.”
They have four RPI top 50 wins now, against seven losses. And they’ve played a top-10 schedule. But they’ve also lost 13 times, which is why star guard Talor Battle says he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“If we win on Sunday [in the Big Ten final], our ticket is punched,” he said.
That’s probably the right attitude. In fact, Battle’s attitude was vital to winning this game.
Battle is a great shooter who has had a train-wreck tournament shooting the ball. Through two games he’s 6 for 30 from the field and 4 for 16 from 3-point range. But with Penn State clinging to a 32-30 lead in the final minutes, Battle lobbied point guard Tim Frazier for the ball.
“I promise I’ll make the shot,” he told Frazier.
He made the shot -- a 3-pointer with 2:24 left. That was an insurmountable five-point lead in this game, although Wisconsin got a wide-open look to tie with 15 seconds left. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin’s best player, had a great look that thudded off the front iron.
“When that ball hit the rim I was so scared,” Battle admitted.
His fears were for naught. Penn State hung on, in a game that might have set the game back several decades but might have launched the Lions to their first NCAA bid in a long time.