In the end, these were the games this team was supposed to have learned how to win.
Penn State, leading by 21 points with just over 16 minutes to go in regulation looked much like it had for the previous five games, all victories, all showcasing various traits.
The Nittany Lions were playing solid defense, backed by a rejuvenated Mike Watkins who ended Wednesday's game just two blocks shy of a triple-double (18 points, 12 rebounds and 8 blocks) and was getting a efficient outing from Lamar Stevens who finished the evening with 22 points. The Nittany Lions were confident, collected and in control.
And then the bottom fell out, and Ole Miss got hot, and the Rebel won 74-72.
Basketball has a tendency to be a streaky sport. Penn State opened the night hitting eight of its first 11 shots, Ole Miss closed out the game going 6-for-9 from the field while Penn State managed to make one of its last eight attempts over a similar span of time. Penn State was outscored 13-6 inside the final media timeout of the night, making a single basket.
Turnovers, close refereeing decisions and cold shooting plagued Penn State in the game's worst moments. A turnover by Izaiah Brockington on an inbounds pass with 18 seconds to play would ultimately lead to a foul by Myreon Jones and Ole Miss' game-winning free throws as Myles Dread missed a three for the win in the final seconds. The normally reliable Dread was scoreless, missing all four shots from beyond the arc.
The cruel irony for Pat Chambers and his staff is that Penn State had been the better team all night. The Nittany Lions would be happy to hold teams to 74 points and enthusiastic to have the combo of Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins playing at such a high level. The Nittany Lions shot the ball a bit better than Ole Miss overall, and the Rebels only made two more threes than Penn State while the turnover margin was just +1 in Ole Miss' favor, fitting considering it took one final turnover to seal the game.
And yet Penn State picks up its first loss of the season, set to play the loser of a meeting between Oklahoma State and Syracuse on Friday.
Earlier in the week Dread mentioned that his teammates had been making winning plays this season, and had managed to win at least two games that they may have lost in the past because of it. The Nittany Lions were never going to go undefeated, but 21 point leads turned two point losses are the result of not making those plays.
There are a lot of factors that go into losing a game like that, some Penn State can control and others that it cannot. But when it's all said and done, this team will have to learn how to overcome those things if it wants to achieve the goals it has set.
Whatever the case might be, whatever exactly was the biggest contributing factor to the loss might have been, it was a loss that never should have been.
Only time will tell if it's a loss that ultimately matters.