A view from behind the bench as Penn State defeats Iowa in double overtime

Penn State basketball en route to a double overtime win over Iowa. Photo by Ben Jones, StateCollege.com

There are 1.5 seconds left in the second overtime Monday night at the Bryce Jordan Center as Micah Shrewsberry grabs a towel and wipes his brow, an act that marks his first moment of relaxation in nearly three hours. It’s too strong to know if he still has his voice, but judging by the fact that Shrewsberry normally loses it well before the end of regulation, it seems reasonable to assume that two hours of stressful basketball overtime won’t did his vocal cords a disservice.

But his face, covered with a smile, is strong and clear. Penn State will win, beating Iowa 90-86 in a game that had a bit of everything. Then again, as Shrewsberry looks at the clock – there’s still time after all – he thinks about the end of the regulations. Then the smile goes away and he returns to training.


To give some context, the Bryce Jordan Center places the media just below the upper deck. It’s not entirely out of the ordinary, but many basketball venues place the media close to the court. It’s a better view, provides more detail during gameplay, and it’s the kind of subtle gesture a program can make to appease those who may sway public opinion about the current state of affairs. That’s not to say it’s a bribe, but no one has complained about good seats at a sporting event.

Either way, sitting away from the pitch isn’t always the most interesting way to watch a game. You are missing a lot. Of course, the ball goes in or not, but there are so many little things that get lost through the cracks as the stories of the game are written miles away, documenting a little piece of history in a little corner. of the world.

But there is no rule about buying a ticket behind the bench.

So I did, four rows behind Shrewsberry, Penn State and one of the wildest games the Big Ten will see all season.

Fast forward…

It’s a little past 6 p.m. and assistant coach Mike Farrelly is already hopping around the field as the Nittany Lions prepare a few shots. Farrelly is an interesting character, perpetually on the move, born out of a coaching fabric that requires an aneurysm-like level of intensity on small details. He’s not angry, just very present in the moment.

Slowly but surely, the rest of the Penn State coaching staff is heading to the field as the pregame continues and the game draws closer and closer. There are many applause, lots of energy, lots of pats on the back and high-fives. Penn State heads to the locker room and returns for the national anthem and introductions. There’s more applause, more high-fives. The energy is certainly there for a team that has lost three in a row to poor shooting and a lack of defence. Word is the Nittany Lions had their hands full in practice this week, and they certainly look like a team ready to respond after a few lackluster performances. They may be flawed, but they’re better than their most recent efforts.

And it shows, Penn State is bouncing back to an 11-2 lead from the get-go. Despite all the shouting around him, Shrewsberry is calm – briefly. It’s almost like he knows Monday night won’t be a quiet affair for long, or maybe he’s self-aware enough to know that losing his voice in the first three minutes wouldn’t do anybody. So he’s sitting down, for now.

By Penn State’s second offensive possession, he’s already on his feet.

From there, he points to second Caleb Dorsey who gets up off the bench but not fast enough.

“Let’s go!” Shrewsberry said, motioning Dorsey to hurry.

A little later and the score is 20-12 and Iowa wakes up. Some poor possessions from Penn State and a 7-0 run from the Hawkeyes have Shrewsberry barking at his bench as the Nittany Lions work at the other end of the field.

“Move the basketball!” Shrewsberry shouts to whoever listens.

Being so close to the bench raises a question not seen from afar: how many players ever hear what the coach is saying? Shrewsberry barks for most of the game, but no one knows who hears it. Point guard Sam Sessoms and Shrewsberry make a lot of eye contact; big man Greg Lee is also on the other end of a lot of Shrewsberry communications right now. But all the others? It’s unclear who hears what during the course of the game and how the coach’s screams are simply an emotional outlet for someone so deeply invested but largely helpless in the moment.

Either way, Penn State moves the ball well, shoots it decently, and Iowa is still only one point behind with just over seven minutes left in the first half.

The final seven minutes are a mix of barking commands from Shrewsberry and yelling on the bench. It’s not anger, it’s just intensity.

“We have to change,” he said after a missed defensive possession.

Referees – of course – begin to get involved in a game that doesn’t need that kind of intervention. With 3:33 to go in the first half, Shrewsberry has a long conversation with a referee about a call that happened earlier. It’s not going to earn him a technique, but it certainly sounds like a polite argument. The two respectfully greet each other and part ways.

Despite Penn State playing pretty well, Iowa trailed 34-32 at halftime. Shrewsberry just cheers as the Nittany Lions head down the tunnel, well aware that all you can ask for in the Big Ten game is for a chance, and the Nittany Lions certainly have one now.

At the start of the second half, John Harrar – who looks more tired and intense up close – has a knocked out contact. Maybe it’s a blessing for a guy who gives his all when he’s on the floor. Harrar heads for the tunnel after the training staff can’t find what he needs in his bag of tricks. In turn, he gets some respite.

Minutes later he returns and moments later Shrewsberry watches him, Iowa and Penn State trading baskets in a close game.

“Get in on the fucking game,” Shrewsberry says to Harrar and Myles Dread as they run to the table. Harrar’s very next possession is yards away from Shrewsberry as Penn State’s freshman head coach yells at Harrar “John, we need you!” pointing to a spot on the floor as Harrar rushes in to set up a screen.

As the clock ticks down, the intensity around Shrewsberry increases. Farrelly adopts defensive positions trying to want to stop. Assistant Adam Fisher talks to the players in a group. Assistant David Aki talks to the referees and holds up a whiteboard of defensive assignments on it. Things are intense but part of an orchestrated chaos.

All the same, the margin is small and the time is limited.

As Penn State heads into caucus with 3:55 to go, the Nittany Lions are on the wrong side of another call. Dread yells at everyone “just play around” urging his teammates to ignore calls they disagree with. Down 59-57, there’s no time to wallow in whistles that should or shouldn’t have happened.

Less than half a minute later, Sam Sessoms recovers and scores a play which Shrewsberry shouts at the team directly in front of him. It’s clear that if they haven’t heard anything else all night, they’ve heard this. Minutes later, Greg Lee lands another field goal to put Penn State up six with 1:51 to go. He looks down at his bench with a slight bend in his shoulders.

The chaos increases more and more at this point. Forward Seth Lundy, who will finish the night with 17 points and 11 rebounds, rolls an ankle with minutes to go, but he signals a coach with 1:32 left and returns.

For all his energy, Farrelly shouts a cautious and ultimately foreshadowing reminder to “bounce back,” making wild gestures with his hands to anyone within earshot as Penn State takes the field, the Nittany Lions now ahead by two to eight seconds. of the end.

Iowa rolls the full length of the floor, Jordan Bohannon shooting a three that misses badly as he overshoots the edge. But Penn State basketball is not without its endless curse. Keegan Murray brings the ball back to the edge with less than a second to go, leveling the game when time runs out.

Overtime we go.

The first overtime is free-throw exhibition, something Shrewsberry has little to offer from the bench beyond applause and the frustrated exasperation of a father hoping it will be possession that his kids decide not to foul. only to find out that this is not the case. .

With 20 seconds remaining in the first overtime, it’s Penn State’s ball by three. Functionally, the choices here are limited as to who will take the photo. In this case, it’s Dread, a streaky shooter, but with a growing collection of field winners over his career.

And while his three with nine seconds left in the first overtime didn’t win the game, he tied it. And although Penn State’s subsequent defensive possession didn’t win the game, it did send it to a second overtime.

Minutes into the second overtime, a bad turnover bounced towards Shrewsberry and into his hands, the ball nearly exploding as he slammed it to the ground before gathering his emotions and signaling his players to stay calm as they made their way to the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa would score a meaningless free throw and three the rest of the way. Harrar (19 points, 10 rebounds) waves to the crowd to cheer as the clock ticks down to just 1.5 seconds, Iowa loses four.

That’s when Shrewsberry finally smiles and wipes her face. But at the same time, he remembers the end of regulation and a lesson he learns about his new charge as head coach of Penn State.

It’s not over until it’s over.

About Edward Fries

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