Penn State men’s basketball erased an 18-point second half deficit to defeat Ohio State 83-80 on Saturday, earning new head coach Mike Rhoades his first victory in Big Ten play after an overtime defeat to Maryland just a few days ago.

If you believe that Penn State men’s basketball is something of an entity which feels a responsibility to introduce each of its various head coaches to the various ways they can feel pain, then Mike Rhoades has certainly gotten his fair share just 10 games into his tenure.

There have been the close losses, the bad offensive nights, the bad defense outings and the could-have-beens. Saturday was a bit of both, a harsh reminder that building a team entirely from the transfer portal is an uncertain endeavor. In Rhoades’ defense he had no real choice given the program he inherited, but it didn’t change the fundamental truth that Rhoades was going to almost certainly have a long year on his hands. If nothing else it seemed unlikely that Penn State of all places, was going to pull an All-American caliber player out of thin air two years in a row and surround him with all the requisite role players.

And for the most part that has proven to be true in the opening stages of Penn State’s season. The Nittany Lions are scrappy, but that is often a word used to describe team trying to make up for other shortcomings. This bunch is not overly consistent offensively and lacks the size it needs to win crucial rebounding battles on a regular basis. For Rhoades there is only so much he can do about these facts, it is what it is.

In the first half of Saturday’s loss-turned-win, this was more than obvious. Penn State shot 34% from the field, got out rebounded 26-12 and found itself trailing 41-29 at the break. You could be excused for turning off the TV at that point if Penn State’s five-game losing streak had gotten you to turn it off in the first place. This season is both meaningful and also something of a stopgap between what Rhoades is hoping to do and the roster he was required to inherit. It’s not to say that these players aren’t any good or won’t win any games, at face value there is plenty of talent and too much of it to avoid losing for long. All the same it’s hard to hold a coach too accountable for wins and losses in a world where teams pieced together this way are infrequently the ones who are doing much of note.

But then there was the second half.

Penn State inexplicably shot 60% from the field, erasing an 18-point deficit with just over 15 minutes to go all while giving up 11 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points. It was a hilarious unlikely intersection of the likelihood that good players won’t shoot poorly forever and all of those players shooting well at the same time. When it was all said and done five players finished in double-digits while Ace Baldwin, whose three-pointer with 32 seconds to go gave Penn State at three-point lead, finished a point shy from joining them. Penn State still struggled on the glass, but overcame its own shortcomings with lava-hot offense pulled out of the Bryce Jordan Center rafters. Why? Who knows.

In many respects Penn State’s second half against Ohio State is the sort of thing to judge Mike Rhoades for in his first year in State College. The wins and losses are going to come, but these Nittany Lions were not constructed to win a Big Ten title they were brought together because – well – there were only three guys on the roster otherwise.

But in the hierarchy of what matters, coaches who don’t lose their players, coaches who get them to keep fighting, believing and trying. Those things matters. What Penn State’s record is at the end of the year will almost certainly float away into a filing cabinet drawer of similar uninteresting records this program has produced. But what Mike Rhoades can do at Penn State will come down to much of what was showcased on Saturday – a team that decided enough was enough, didn’t point the finger and went out with a plan to win the damn thing. And on the heels of five-straight losses with a team constructed on the fly, that probably says more about Rhoades than whatever his record is this March. Especially if the Nittany Lions keep doing it. And if they do, whose to say that buy-in can’t turn into something else.

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