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Penn State 36, Wisconsin 33: A love story

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The Big Ten salutes thee, ye warriors from 2011.

Penn State v Wisconsin Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Sometimes, when ideas are slow at Inside NU, we let Tristan Jung go off the rails. Today is one of those days. Obviously, most of this story is completely fictional, except for the basketball. The basketball happened, unfortunately, on March 11, 2011.

I see her face again in the Jumbotron at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. I’d dragged myself through the door to watch some basketball, any basketball, to take my mind off the upset clients and the student loan debts. Basketball has a way of making you forget the past, engrossing you in a contest of swirling limbs and impossible physics that churn through the bracken in your mind. I love it. I love the game. I love beautiful team basketball and when an offensive set comes together for a wide-open corner three.

I love Corrine too, I guess. She’s long gone from my life. She left me with my endless melancholy and angry ravings about the Indiana Pacers six months ago, and it hurts. She liked sports, she really did, but she couldn’t stand the pageantry I had to bring to sports: the elaborate drinking routine, the wagers, the postgame exhortations. The endless feeling that basketball, not her, was the only escape from the brutality of life didn’t help our relationship either.

I always like to look at the Jumbotron during the first few possessions of a basketball game, especially when I’m in the nosebleeds. You can’t seem much of the floor anyway, and I like to appreciate the aesthetics.

Wait, there she is! for three brief seconds, staring at me after Penn State’s Talor Battle makes the first shot of the game, a three-pointer that curls through the net like lazy cigarette smoke. When the score flickers to Penn State 3, Wisconsin 0, I see a ghostly apparition of her face appear in the bottom left corner of the Jumbotron. She is occupying a courtside seat, manifesting herself at the very instant Battle’s shot left the cylinder.

The sports surely didn’t matter too much. We would’ve probably stayed together for bit longer had she not disappeared from the planet along with 137 other passengers on American Flight 617 from Boston to O’Hare. Six months ago, her Boeing 737 MAX vanished somewhere over Lake Erie, leaving nothing but a small, stuffed Webkinz horse and an indecipherable black box recording.

The camera quickly cuts away as the next possession begins. Keaton Nankivil turns the ball over and Penn State has another chance to score. Battle misses, but the Nittany Lions snag the board and dish it to David Jackson, who hits. 6-0 Penn State, and Corinne is back in her seat, as if she had been there the whole time.

Sitting in the upper deck of Conseco, I look down and scan for my disappeared girlfriend, who was apparently resurrected and sitting courtside at the Big Ten Tournament. It’s impossible. I am hallucinating. There is nothing in the world that could bring her back, and now, at this stupid basketball game, she’s sitting right there? I stare down at the seats, frantically searching for her, but she isn’t there. I wait for another basket, any Penn State basket. They show a replay of the Jackson three and she isn’t there. It has to be a live basket. I’m waiting. I’m waiting.

They told me that the wreckage of the plane must be somewhere at the bottom of the lake. They never found it, they never found anything except that black box and the Webkinz horse and yet, they assured me she was gone forever. I went to the funeral and had nothing but a pile of her books and her photos.

Penn State scores two more buckets to make it 10-0. Corinne is there again on the Jumbotron, but not in my vision. I start to sweat. There aren’t too many fans in the upper bowl with me, but as play resumes I frantically point at the screen to the old lady dressed in navy blue who is sitting next to me.

“Hey, hey! Can you do me a favor and look for a woman in the purple t-shirt sitting courtside on the Jumbotron when Penn State scores its next basket? I just want to see if I’m seeing things.”

She’s freaked out. Understandable. It’s not every day a young man in a suit and tie at the second round of the Big Ten Tournament asks you to stare at a Jumbotron and search for a woman on the screen.

“Hey, please, look it’s 10-0, they’ll score again soon, just one basket!”

What I desperately need at this very moment was for Penn State to score anything: a free throw, layup, three, anything so that Corinne would appear on the Jumbotron and this lady could believe me.

But, but, what the heck, wait, why was this game against BO RYAN’S WISCONSIN TEAM!!?!?!?!?!? The No. 345 team in the country in pace of play!!!!???? What cosmic injustice has been given to me?

Every...single...possession takes the full shot clock. Penn State grabs a defensive rebound but misses. Neither team scores for 1:46 of game time and the woman flees my row during the TV timeout. Great. Thanks Bo Ryan. Thanks for nothing. Tim Frazier promptly steals the ball and makes a layup for Penn State. Corinne appears on the Jumbotron again, and yet no one pays attention because who looks at the Jumbotron during a live basketball game? Why was the stadium even showing the game on the Jumbotron? What the heck was going on?

I go back to the old lady, who is seriously freaked out again.

“Please, please, just wait for another Penn State basket and just look at the Jumobtron. Do you see the girl in the purple shirt sitting courtside on the far side of the shot?”

2 minutes and 12 seconds of game time pass without any points. There are somehow only four possessions in this span of time. I am dying. The old lady is threatening to call security so I flee back to my seat, just in time to see David Jackson nail a jumper to make it 14-0 Penn State. Wisconsin hadn’t scored once, and had wasted a critical portion of time for me.

Of course, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor scores on the next possession to make it 14-2. This basketball game is awful, just awful. Jones dunk. Corrine. Frazier layup. Corinne. No one in the arena is paying the slightest attention to me. Desperate, I go to the security guard with the score 18-6 and asked him to look at the Jumbotron the next time Penn State scored.

Missed layup, offensive board, missed tip shot, offensive board, missed tip shot. Wisconsin drains the clock of its soul. Missed jumper. Bo Ryan solves world poverty before the Badgers take a shot. Wisconsin turns it over again, Penn State misses twice, and then Wisconsin does its thing before missing, again. No team scores for over three minutes of gameplay, and the security guard tells me he has to go cover another shift, and that I look like I should go the hospital. I leave the upper bowl and try to sneak into the courtside seats down below. I get into an argument with the security at Conseco Fieldhouse for the second time today. No one will let me into the courtside seating without a ticket or a press pass.

I start screaming, raving, and I take a break in the bathroom. After calming down, I break out of the holding room they’ve placed me in and dash back out to the arena. It’s halftime, and the score reads Penn State 20, Wisconsin 16. Yuck. I reenter the upper bowl just as the second half begins. It’s an illusion, a trick of the light. There’s nothing there.

Since both teams have switched sides, Wisconsin is now sluggishly approaching the basket Penn State was heading to. The first Wisconsin possession is a brisk 12 seconds. Jon Leuer misses. The second takes 34 seconds before Jordan Taylor also misses. I begin to grow slightly complacent and not haunted by the past. Then, after two minutes of basketball, Wisconsin scores and I see her.

She’s waving at me now, briefly, before the camera pans and Penn State is on the offensive. A minute later, Jon Leuer hits a layup and I see her waving at me. She’s wearing a purple shirt and jeans. I’m standing in my seat, arm extended, crying, hoping for another Wisconsin basket.

But they can’t...do anything!! GSUGHSGSDFLdslkjbdf—it’s been four minutes of game time, an eternity, and Wisconsin is stuck at 20 points. They are averaging 0.8 points per minute. The basketball is destroying my soul, and yet this is all part of Bo Ryan’s plan, he wants to bleed the clock, bleed my hopes of ever living, bleed everything away from my veins and mind until, at last, I will never see her again.

At 14:22, Bruesewitz makes a layup and it’s tied at 22 apiece.

I can’t look anymore. I’m certain that only I can see this apparition. As I walk through the corridors, I see Bo Ryan standing at the concession stand, ordering a hot dog.

“Uh, Bo, shouldn’t you be coaching the basketball team?”

“Ah, there’s no need. Our work is already done!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Your team has scored 26 points in 29 minutes. It’s the most abysmal basketball game any Big Ten fan has watched in some time. And you’re out here buying a hot dog.”

“Look, I don’t know who you are, but I wasn’t given this job to be a basketball coach. I was given this job because the U.S. government hides things in Wisconsin all the time. I was tasked with harnessing the negative power of basketball and weaponizing it, turning it into something usable. You see, if the offense is bad enough, and the entertainment product is so torpid and unwatchable, it creates a rip in the time-space continuum. Think of it like a clogged toilet. At some point, it’ll explode. We have Tony Bennett working on it at Virginia. Soon, our agents will conspire to get Bill Carmody fired and Northwestern will have Chris Collins. That’ll be our Chicago branch. ”

“Wait, a rip in the time-space continuum? Like, how I can see my vanished girlfriend in that seat right there?”

“Uh, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bo said, rapidly trying to find his way back to the bench.

This time, I bribed the security guard with $50 to give me a discarded press pass and let me stand courtside near the media entrance behind the band. I waited for Wisconsin to score. The Badgers were scoreless for 4:04 of game time, and countless more seconds in real time. But my steely determination to see what I saw readied me for this torture.

It’s clear to me now. Bo Ryan, at some point during this awful basketball game, created the rip in the time-space continuum necessary for an entire plane to disappear six months ago. But every time Wisconsin scores a basket, the field weakens slightly and I see my beloved Corinne again. I’m trembling now. I lean up against the wall with my fake press pass as Wisconsin, at last, scores a tip shot and I see her on the Jumbotron. The crowd, bemused, roars with approval. Corinne waves at me again, probably in some alternate universe where we’re at this game and we’re both smiling at each other, and I’ve taken my dream job as a sportswriter and I’m sitting at Conseco Fieldhouse, or what is it, Bankers Life? Whatever year this is, the future, the past, it all lines up as the Badgers get back on defense. Then it disappears, just like it will all disappear someday when Wisconsin inevitably falls short of the national title.

It dawns on me that I’ll never see her again. There will never be a basketball game this bad ever again. A Boeing 737 MAX suddenly reports massive turbulence. Jon Leuer misses back-to-back threes.

It takes another 2:40 for Wisconsin to score, and she appears on the screen, pixelated, not real but also not fake, for the briefest of seconds. Then, out the candle. Wisconsin scores one more basket. After all that, Wisconsin only scored 15 times and made one free throw. She was in my life again for 80 seconds.

The other security guards at Conseco Fieldhouse have been eyeing me suspiciously as the game begins to end. I’m walking closer to the court, looking up at the Jumbotron with expectant, eager eyes. The guards come to take me away for impersonating a journalist.

“Will you just let me see Corinne?” I scream. “She’s there! I know she’s there! She died, in a plane accident, six months ago, but she’s HERE! Her name is Corinne Buckets! WHY CAN’T ANYONE DO ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?”


The end.