Penn State men’s basketball is developing a fighting identity, even as it loses to Ohio State

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Micah Shrewsberry
    American basketball coach

Jamari Wheeler dapped up former teammates and shook hands with unfamiliar opponents as he walked through the handshake line Wednesday night after Ohio State defeated Penn State men’s basketball 76-64 in the Bryce Jordan Center. But when the Ohio State Buckeye reached John Harrar, they shared an embrace.

The former teammates hugged as Harrar rustled Wheeler’s hair, with the Nittany Lion telling the Buckeye to make sure he goes to see his mom and girlfriend.

Wheeler walked off the court and into the visiting locker room, surely an unfamiliar place for the senior guard who spent four years with Penn State before transferring to Ohio State, but he did so as a winner against a program that was vastly different than the one he played for last season.

The senior guard was looking forward to the matchup with his former team, and it was one he was ready for as soon as he knew when it would take place.

“I knew the date,” Wheeler said with a smile following the win. “Right when the Big Ten schedule dropped, I circled it. It’s big coming in here and getting this win.”

Wheeler’s decision to leave the program marked a shift in the program at Penn State. He was one of the previous iteration’s most vocal leaders and now he would be suiting up for one of the program’s biggest rivals. But the team he left doesn’t look much like the one he took the court against Sunday night.

Ohio StateÕs Jamari Wheeler looks for an open teammate around Penn State’s Sam Sessoms during the game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Ohio StateÕs Jamari Wheeler looks for an open teammate around Penn State’s Sam Sessoms during the game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.

Only six of the scholarship players from last year’s roster remain with the Nittany Lions, including Harrar, who was one of Wheeler’s closest friends at Penn State.

Now, Harrar remains as one of the final pillars from the previous regime and he is exactly that for Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry — a pillar.

“What that kid does every day, in practice, in the film room, in the locker room, on the court,” Shrewsberry said, “That’s Penn State. When I got here, and people started telling me about it, I got people on my staff from Penn State, people in the community telling me about Penn State, what I hear Penn State is, I see it every day and I see it in John.”

Shrewsberry’s program is one in transition. The new head coach does not take any solace in moral victories. He does not want pity. He wants his team to fight.

That’s what it did for the most part during the loss to the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions battled and eventually closed the gap to single digits before Ohio State finally pulled away. A deserved win for a good team coming off a victory over No. 1 Duke Tuesday night.

Penn State’s John Harrar dribbles around Ohio StateÕs Kyle Young during the game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Penn State’s John Harrar dribbles around Ohio StateÕs Kyle Young during the game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.

“We are going to fight, every night, no questions asked,” Shrewsberry said. “When you lay it all out there like that, you can live with the results. If we’re not putting everything we got into our preparation, if we’re not laying it all out there on the court, you can’t feel good about the result. We didn’t put 40 minutes together, but how we fought in the second half, I can live with the results if we play like that the entire time. And that’s all we’re trying to do, no matter what this record looks like.”

The crowd on hand to watch the Penn State loss wasn’t those of old for the program. On a Sunday night in December, the student section filled up and so did many of the regular seats, joining in on a chorus of cheers when the Nittany Lions succeeded — and a chorus of boos any time Wheeler touched the ball.

Those are the types of environments Shrewsberry hopes to replicate consistently, but to do that he’ll need to find more pillars, the kind that will be on campus for more than a year.

For now, he’s going to have to operate with what he has and who he has on his roster. That means putting it all on the line for those players and ensuring that some of those could-be losses on the schedule turn into wins. This season that means doing it for Harrar, who, as Shrewsberry said, embodies Penn State’s culture, and who chose to stay when so many of his other teammates — including his opponent Sunday night — decided not to.

“What he does, who he is, I’mma fight tooth and nail,” Shrewsberry said. “Whether I gotta get my old ass out there and play too, I’m gonna fight tooth and nail for that dude to have a good season.”

Penn State’s John Harrar jokes with Ohio State’s Jamari Wheeler after a foul during the game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Penn State’s John Harrar jokes with Ohio State’s Jamari Wheeler after a foul during the game on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting