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PSU Basketball

Lions give away game in brutal loss

Photo by Penn State Athletics

UNIVERSITY PARK — It would have been another impressive win for Penn State interim coach Jim Ferry. It would have given him back-to-back victories over perennial NCAA Tournament teams from this region. It would have helped this talented and spunky PSU team gain a whole bunch of confidence.

Then, Penn State basketball showed up.

The Penn State basketball we’ve all come to expect for years, and years, and years.

It was brutal.

Certainly for the players.

And ultimately, also for Ferry.

Penn State led by 19 in the first half. It led by eight with 1:58 remaining. It had a chance to tie in OT but missed a crucial free throw with 23 seconds left.

Then PSU lost to Seton Hall, 98-92, in a game that it certainly gave away Sunday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“Really disappointing loss,” Ferry said.

“We’re still up eight with 2 minutes to go, we’ve got to win that game,” he added.

I had my column idea all ready to write: Ferry, after beating VCU and Seton Hall in the span of five days, was making his case early this season to have the interim head coach tag removed and to possibly be in line to become Penn State’s permanent head coach after the season.

It was always going to be a long shot. Because for a variety of reasons, no matter what Ferry and the Lions do this season, Penn State must conduct a national search and probably needs to hire a head coach who deserves the job based on his own success.

Maybe Ferry has no shot. None. No matter what.

But if Penn State would have beaten Seton Hall on Sunday, I’m here to tell you that everyone should have at least started considering the notion that it could be possible.

Seton Hall and coach Kevin Willard have been to the NCAA Tournament the past five years (well, it would have made it last season, but the tourney was canceled).

Penn State beat VCU on Wednesday, 72-69. VCU has been to the NCAA Tournament nine times since 2009, or the exact total PSU has been in its entire history. Current coach Mike Rhoades has been once in his three years.

What’s most interesting is that, when Patrick Chambers was forced to resign in October, a lot of people immediately pointed out Rhoades as the next potential Penn State coach.

Ferry just beat that guy.

Some PSU fans — as crazy as it sounds — were saying Willard should be the next coach. Nevermind that Seton Hall is a far superior job than the Penn State job, and that Willard reportedly makes close to $2 million, or close to double what Chambers was making.

Anyway, you see where I’m going here.

Beating VCU and Seton Hall in back-to-back games would have been some pretty sweet icing on the cake for Ferry.

He had it in the bag — or so it seemed — up 40-21 after a barrage of great 3-point shooting in the first half.

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And he had it in the bag up 84-76 with 1:58 remaining.

Then the bag ripped open.

“This is a game with the experienced group we have, we should have been able to put that game away,” Ferry said.

This is a bad loss for Ferry. He needed this game, not just for himself and any personal agenda to get the PSU job.

He needed this game for the kids in the program to keep believing.

The Lions won in phenomenal fashion against VCU, on a 3 at the buzzer by Myles Dread.

This game was a complete 180, with the crushing factor this time equaling the excitement level of the last game.

“You’re disappointed, obviously, but we’ve got to learn from it, too,” Ferry said. “You can see how dynamic we can be as a team when we play the right way. And when we don’t you can see what happens, as well.”

Photo by Cory Giger

Sam Sessoms was back out on the court after the game working on his free throws, after missing a big one from the foul line that would have tied the game with 23 seconds left in overtime.

 

Now Penn State travels to Virginia Tech, which is ranked 16th.

Then Big Ten play starts, and it’s gonna be tough to find wins anywhere in the league for Penn State against this schedule.

But if Ferry and the Lions could have held on to beat Seton Hall, the confidence and momentum would have been off the charts for the team, and the Penn State administration may have started to warm up to the idea that Ferry could indeed be the guy for the long term.

But with this kind of loss, and the tough slate coming up, it’s gonna be that much more difficult for either of those things to happen.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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