Nittany Lions basketball will return to Rec Hall for a game

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In the past, Penn State won 75 percent of its home basketball games, rallying behind raucous fans that shrouded the court like a thick fog.

The Nittany Lions used to play games at Rec Hall, a bandbox built in the 1920s for intramural and varsity sports. And now they are coming back for one game. Athletic director Dave Joyner and basketball coach Patrick Chambers announced Wednesday that Penn State would play Princeton Dec. 14 at Rec Hall.

"We heard what the fans were saying," Chambers said. "We heard what the students were saying. ... They wanted to go back in time to be part of that tradition. There's nothing like it, being in that arena."

Chambers was there in 1993 for an Indiana game. A college student then, he was visiting his Penn State siblings.

If you know anything about Penn State basketball, you've heard of this game, maybe even seen the tape. Indiana was ranked No. 1 in Division I, and Penn State had a two-point lead in the final 20 seconds. But an incorrect foul call caused Penn State to turn the ball over, and Indiana won.

Every endearing quality of Rec Hall was present in this loss. The student section practically spilled out onto the court, only inches away from the inbounds line. They stood for the entire game. It was loud, and it was hot.

"It was one of the most amazing experiences I've had as a fan," Chambers said.

In 1996, Penn State began playing at Bryce Jordan Center, which seats nearly 10,000 more than the 6,800 capacity of Rec Hall. Despite the electric atmosphere, change had to come. Antiquity entertains scholars and stirs memories from alums, but it doesn't attract recruits. Former basketball coach Bruce Parkhill remembers a time in the 1990s when he was walking out of his office in Rec Hall and heard a child say to his dad, "Do they really play games in here?"

"I felt like going up and saying, 'Yeah, but you ought to see the games in here,' " Parkhill said.

"When it's full for wrestling, gymnastics, whatever, it's the best. It's a grand, old lady."

Chambers has said many times he has to win to bring that support for his team. In the 2012-13 season, Bryce Jordan Center averaged 7,600 fans per game.

He wants to move the program forward and believes revisiting the past will aid in his goal of bringing winning basketball and more fans to Bryce Jordan Center for a team with the potential to be Penn State's best in several years.

"We can fill this place as well," Chambers said. "We can do it. But it's going to be nice to go back in time. Just a little bit. Just to give them a taste of what it used to be."

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com or Twitter @mdent05.


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