CHICAGO — Penn State got pushed by Indiana all the way to the end. The Nittany Lions held on.
Close games are no big deal for Jalen Pickett and Co.
Pickett scored 28 points, Seth Lundy had 16 and Penn State beat No. 19 Indiana 77-73 on Saturday to advance to the Big Ten Tournament championship.
Andrew Funk added nine points as 10th-seeded Penn State (22-12) won for the eighth time in nine games. The Nittany Lions went 8 for 23 from 3-point range, compared to 2 for 14 for the Hoosiers.
Penn State became the first double-digit seed to reach the Big Ten final since Illinois in 2008, and just the third overall in the history of the tournament.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now,” coach Micah Shrewsberry said.
Next up is top-seeded Purdue, which stopped Ohio State’s surprising run with an 80-66 victory in the first semifinal. The Nittany Lions were swept by the fifth-ranked Boilermakers this season, losing 76-63 on Jan. 8 and 80-60 on Feb. 1.
Shrewsberry was an assistant at Purdue before he took over the Nittany Lions in March 2021. He remains good friends with Boilermakers coach Matt Painter.
“It’ll be a great challenge,” Shrewsberry said. “We got to be ready.”
Penn State opened the tournament with a 79-76 victory against Illinois and a 67-65 overtime win against Northwestern. The Nittany Lions’ last seven games have been decided by a total of 20 points.
The deep Big Ten run has Penn State in position for its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2011. It looked as if the school was going in 2020, but the tourney was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a poster in our locker room saying ‘Believe,’ and you know I think our team is believing in us,” Pickett said.
Trayce Jackson-Davis had 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Indiana (22-11), and Tamar Bates had 14 points. The third-seeded Hoosiers shot 56% in the second half, but they ran out of time after making a frantic comeback in the final minutes.
“We need that intensity throughout the whole game,” Jackson-Davis said, “and we can’t play scared. I thought overall we kind of played tentative.”
Trey Galloway’s layup with 33 seconds left got Indiana within one, but Lundy responded with two free throws for Penn State. Jalen Hood-Schifino then missed a 3 and Camren Wynter hit another foul shot to help the Nittany Lions close it out.
Penn State went 23 for 26 at the line, compared to 9 for 11 for Indiana.
“When we’re winning, you know our perimeter play is making shots and our bigs are making plays inside,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said, “and it was kind of lopsided a little bit today.”
The Hoosiers tied it at 47 on Jackson-Davis’ jam with 10:23 left. But the Nittany Lions responded with a 14-4 run.
Pickett kicked off the decisive stretch with an offensive rebound and a layup. Funk made a big 3-pointer, and Kebba Njie dunked off a pass from Wynter. After Hood-Schifino made two foul shots for Indiana, Wynter connected from deep for a 61-51 lead with 5:22 to go.
“We just stick together and keep fighting,” Lundy said.
Hood-Schifino scored 11 points for Indiana, which lost 85-66 at Penn State on Jan. 11. Race Thompson had 10, including a soaring alley-oop jam in the first half that drew a big round of cheers from the United Center crowd.
Asked about reports that he could be a candidate for openings at Notre Dame and Georgetown, Shrewsberry said he is focused on his team.
“I’m happy to be here. Nobody wanted me a few years ago,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. I love our guys. We’re going to prepare to play for a championship tomorrow.”
There is a lot to like about a Penn State team that can make free throws and 3-pointers. It struggled against Indiana’s press in the final minutes, but it didn’t sound too concerned about the trouble after win.
Indiana had stretches of stellar play and looked a little too comfortable at other times. It struggled on the glass, getting outrebounded 38-30.
Penn State is making its first appearance in the Big Ten Tournament championship since 2011.
Indiana waits to see where it is going for the NCAA Tournament.
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