Final seconds ticking off, Pat Chambers grabbed his water bottle, took a big swig, his Penn State Nittany Lions up 11 on Michigan State. You build some thirst gaining a signature win. To do it at the Palestra? Chambers called it a magical experience.
"Man, that was fun,'' Penn State's coach said later, after the young Nits beat Tom Izzo's young Spartans, 72-63.
Palestra memories don't come back for Chambers so much as they never leave. His brother played point guard here for Penn. From coming here as a child, he remembers the smells as much as the opponents - "It's a gym. I was drenched. I had to get changed. I was drenched, and you love it. You love every second, every sweat, every drop."
Some of his talented freshmen didn't have to go back for their memories. Roman Catholic won the Catholic League title here the last two seasons, so it was less than a year for Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr, who talked at the postgame news conference.
"I felt at home,'' said Stevens, who had led everyone with a smooth 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Same locker room as last year or different?
"The same,'' Stevens said, used to the southeast corner room.
This Big Ten game felt like a Big Five atmosphere in the sense that there were enough fans of both schools that the full house, 8,722 strong, was loud no matter which team was scoring. The mix was about what you'd expect, heavy Penn State, healthy Michigan State.
The whole thing also felt kind of weird. There were #FightOnPenn signs mixed with Legion of Blue banners. Confusing to the senses. An alumni guy had the microphone and gave "this is our city, this is our state" rallying cry. James Franklin appeared on the video screen, part of a celebration of the Nits' Big Ten football title. A Quakers hoop assistant, Nat Graham, moved through the media room before the game, his team headed off for Princeton..
This part felt familiar. A visiting big-time coach came in here, got beat, and apologized for what the good people of this city had to witness. Izzo was as good at his news conference as his team was bad. (Not always a coincidence.)
Izzo paid every compliment he could to Penn State. He knew what everyone in the building knew: The Nittany Lions deserved this one.
"It was every bit as good as everybody told me,'' Izzo said of the Palestra itself. "I was pleased to have the opportunity to play here. I'm embarrassed that in a city where basketball is like this, my team would play like they did in that first half. We guarded nobody. We played with no energy."
Izzo also apologized to "this magnificent facility" itself. (Reached later for comment, the building accepted the apology.)
For 11-6 Michigan State, 3-1 in the Big Ten, missing a couple of injured frontcourt players all season, and starting four freshmen was a factor here, for sure. But one of the ways you can give Chambers credit is that he decided not to start one of his own Philly talents, deciding maybe three freshmen were too many. Off the bench, redshirt freshman Mike Watkins of Math, Civics, and Sciences (and Phelps) still got his playing time, and led everyone with nine rebounds. If Watkins has a chance to get a rebound, even 20 percent, take those odds.
As Izzo finished up his session, praising Penn State's players up and down the roster after the Nittany Lions improved to 10-7 and 2-2 in the league, Stevens and Carr had walked in the door.
"We knew we were going to walk into a hornet's nest here,'' Izzo said. "I'm so stupid, that's what I do every year. I pick somewhere to go and get my brains beat in. This year was this. Maybe my guys will learn a lesson. Not many times do you learn lessons through victory."
Asked about halftime intensity, Izzo quipped, "Nah, we played cards, we played euchre, everybody had a beer, passed the chips around, just kind of had a good time. . . . Was it a fistfight? No, it wasn't a fistfight. Was it a challenging of their manhood? Sure."
Of that room in the northeast corner, Izzo said, "You walk in the locker room and not see any jacks for wi-fi or phones. God, it was great. I told my guys we'd probably have to hang our coats on hooks. We didn't have hooks in there. It was awesome. I threw my damn coat on the floor."
Come back, Tom Izzo, anytime. Penn State would be happy to do it again.