For Penn State fans, March 17, 2011 will forever be remembered as the definition bittersweet.
It began with the Nittany Lions realizing a dream 10 years in the making, appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 after a truly remarkable run through the Big Ten Tournament to earn the berth led by one of the best senior classes in school history. It ended when a desperation heave by Temple's Juan Fernandez sank through the hoop in the final second, sending the Nittany Lions home 66-64 losers in their second round NCAA Tournament game in Tucson, Arizona.
Talor Battle ended his Penn State career with a 23-point performance, the final triple coming on a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in the game that pulled the Lions even with the Owls before the devastating final act. His fellow seniors, David Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones added 14, six and four points respectively in their final games in blue and white. Jones also had a team high eight rebounds. Sophomore Tim Frazier added 15 points, six assist, and four rebounds.
After Penn State grabbed an early nine point lead, the Owls clawed back following Brooks' exit mid-way through the first half with two fouls and took at 35-33 lead into halftime. Moments into the second half, Brooks re-dislocated his shoulder, never to return, and Penn State was forced to finish the game without its second leading scorer and top rebounder.
The Lions clearly weren't the same without him, and his absence will likely go down in history as the difference between a Penn State upset and a devastating loss in the desert.
Fernandez and teammate Ramone Moore led the way for Temple with 23 points each. Lavoy Allen was held to three points, but grabbed 12 big rebounds for the Owls in the win. Temple will face the winner of San Diego State and Northern Colorado in the third round of the tournament on Saturday.
Penn State will return to Happy Valley, where the seniors will clean out their lockers at the Bryce Jordan Center for the final time and a new era of Nittany Lions basketball will begin.