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Penn State's upset of Michigan State can become the norm under Micah Shrewsberry

JON SAUBER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry gives instructions to his team in second half  of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State Tuesday , Feb. 15, 2022, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gary M. Baranec)

Micah Shrewsberry made note of the officiating in certain games prior to his team's game against Michigan State in several news conferences.

He made a joke about not wanting to discuss it in order to not dip into his kids' college fund to pay a fine, he voiced his frustrations on a radio interview after his team's 76-70 loss to Minnesota and he commented on his team's play style potentially impacting how many fouls are called during a weekly press conference.

Tuesday night the Penn State head coach's tip-toeing around the subject ended. Senior Penn State center John Harrar drew contact on a shot around the rim, no foul was called, and Shrewsberry erupted, quickly earning a technical foul for his outburst with his team down 34-27.

"I thought our guys were competing," Shrewsberry said following the game. "I disagreed with the official and what he called."

The results were not immediate but the final one came down in his favor.

The Nittany Lions (10-12, 5-9 Big Ten) knocked off the No. 19 Michigan State Spartans, 62-58, with a galvanized effort behind their first-year head coach.

His team's reaction to his frustrations were concise and were the sign of a veteran group.

"Immediately, (senior) Myles (Dread) came over and was like, 'Hey, we got you coach, we got you,'" he said. "We had an older group on the court at the time and I thought they really responded and really played hard from that moment defensively. We really locked in, in terms of what we needed to do. I thought our offense got better from that moment on. I don't know, maybe I'm a dummy for waiting this long to get one."

Plenty of fight: The call was a microcosm of who Shrewsberry is in his players' eyes. He fought for his team just as they would continue to back and fight for him on the court.

Junior forward Seth Lundy thought the moment allowed the group to rally and showed a greater belief in what is being built in the head coach's first year with the program.

"He just loves winning, that's all it is," Lundy said. "... He said that he was gonna get one eventually and real soon. We just gonna keep fighting for him and he's gonna keep fighting for us, so we just got each other's back."

Penn State forward Seth Lundy in action against during the first half an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Feb. 12, 2022, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 76-70. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

Lundy a key: Lundy was an important figure after the moment, scoring eight of his 17 points in the game's final 10:13 of action. He did his damage without controlling many of the possessions he took part in, staying active off the ball, moving off screens and finding spots in the defense.

The junior forward took advantage of defenders who closed out with their hands' down, rising up and firing to the tune of a 5-of-12 performance from 3-point range in the game. His activity allowed him to get many of those shots off and he kept going to the same spots to get them, making four of his 3-pointers from the left wing and one from the left corner.

Lundy's efforts, much like his defensive work this season as the team's best wing defender, took a level of buy-in to play without the ball in his hands.

"I talk to my coaches all the time about different ways of scoring the ball," Lundy said. "They always say I'm most effective when I catch and shoot. A lot of times when John is rolling, whoever is guarding me tags on John because obviously he's a threat down there. So that quick little second where I'm open, you've got to make that read and they tell me to shoot the ball every single time."

Penn State's John Harrar (21) and Penn State's Myles Dread (2) enjoy their close fought win over Michigan State in an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gary M. Baranec)

Harrar steps up: His buy-in has helped set the tone for the team, but perhaps no player has had a bigger impact from that standpoint than Harrar, the player whose efforts pushed Shrewsberry over the limit.

The senior center was dominant on the glass in the game, pulling down 16 rebounds, but it was his six offensive boards that made the biggest difference. Time and time again he fought for his teammates' missed shots and time and time again he outworked his opponents to get them.

The big man's efforts were so apparent that Shrewsberry had no issue putting his center on an island fighting for second chances.

"He was in there battling by himself," Shrewsberry said. "We sent four guys back in transition and John fought. We could do that because there wasn't a fear of John not sprinting back on defense every single time. He was gonna go as hard as possible to the glass, and run back as hard as he needs to."

Izzo impressed: Harrar's efforts were noticed by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, one of the most prominent coaches in all of college basketball who has been roaming the sidelines as the Spartans' leader since 1995.

Izzo said the Spartans (18-7, 9-5) could have done more to make life difficult for the Penn State center, but his effort level and fight for his team is something the entire Big Ten could get behind.

"I'm proud he's a Big Ten player," Izzo said. "I look at our league, he's the kind of guy you want to represent your league. Just keeps doing his job, rolling, rolling. We did such a poor job of handling it but he did a great job of rolling. ... There's no question John Harrar was the difference in the game. ... He's gotten better every year. He doesn't complain about what he's doing. He just keeps getting stronger and better. Tonight he was the hero."

Tied together: Shrewsberry and Harrar, in a way, have been tied together since the senior center decided to return after entering the transfer portal last March.

The head coach trying to build a culture along the uphill battle of winning basketball games at a school most known for its football and wrestling programs. The senior trying to be a pillar of that culture and overcome his own long odds of earning an appearance in the NCAA Tournament with a program that hasn't been there for over a decade.

Nights like Tuesday haven't been common in University Park over the last 10 years, but Harrar has knocked off a ranked opponent at least once per season since his arrival in 2017.

With the culture his new head coach is building, and the help of his effort on the court, Harrar can make those infrequent nights the norm long after his departure.