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Giger: PSU hoops cursed with being good enough to just barely lose

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Myreon Jones

Penn State badly needed this one. It would have been a tremendous win — a road victory over the No. 13 team in the country — and it probably would have been enough to propel the Nittany Lions into the “last four in” for now with bracketologists.

PSU led 70-62 inside of 8 minutes left.

It was there for the taking.

It was right …

Oh well.

It was a loss. A crushing loss. Another in a long, long, long line of crushing losses for Penn State basketball fans.

Ohio State 83, Penn State 79.

The Lions fell to 2-6 in the Big Ten, when yes, a 3-5 mark with a third straight victory and a huge one in Columbus would have been massive for their tournament hopes.

It was, without question, what interim coach Jim Ferry said afterward:

“That was a great college basketball game.”

A great game that Penn State very well could have won, and had two great looks at the basket in the closing seconds to keep their hopes alive.

First, Seth Lundy, who was on fire for much of the night and had 26 points, had a wide-open 3 from the right wing with 49 seconds to go and PSU down, 81-79. That would have been for the lead.

But he missed.

The Lions got the ball back with 16 seconds to go. Myreon Jones made a move into the lane and put up a shot from 12 feet that looked like it would go in.

It didn’t.

In this crazy season — with a scrappy Penn State team that can play with anyone but just can’t finish the deal — that shot just seemed destined not to fall.

Ohio State got the rebound with 1.9 seconds to go and hit two free throws to seal it.

“Ohio State’s a fantastic team, especially at home,” Ferry said, and he’s absolutely right.

Ohio State is No. 17 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Penn State entered the game No. 39. A win on the road against that caliber of opponent may have boosted the Lions by 6-8 spots.

Yeah, they still would have been 3-5 in the Big Ten, but that number doesn’t matter as much when the league is so freaking awesome like it is this year.

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Penn State can get to the tournament finishing two games under .500 in the Big Ten.

Winning this game would have meant the Lions would have to go .500 the rest of the way, a very tall order. But still doable.

“I’m really proud of our guys, and we just can’t let this game affect us for Saturday (against Wisconsin),” Ferry said. “We got to bounce back quick.”

Penn State fell behind 8-0 and 14-2 to start the game and still led by 8 with less than 8 minutes to go. That’s how well the Lions played for a very long stretch, outscoring the home Buckeyes by 20 over a 27-minute period.

But for all the spunk and grit and character and, yes, talent that this PSU team has, it still doesn’t get the job enough in close games.

I’m not making some grandiose statement here when I say this: Penn State is not going to make the NCAA Tournament.

Not because the Lions aren’t one of the 68 best teams in the country. If you watch them play night in and night out, they compete extremely well against these Big Ten behemoths and usually have a chance late.

They just can’t find a way to win enough of those games.

But, hey, that’s really the story of Penn State basketball, isn’t it?

Always good enough to just barely lose.


**You have to feel for Ferry, because as AD Sandy Barbour said, he is auditioning as we speak for the full-time head coaching job. If Penn State had won this game and beaten Seton Hall earlier — a game the Lions totally blew — there’s no question Ferry would be in a strong position to perhaps get the team to the NCAA Tournament, which I believe would get him the job.

**John Harrah finished with a career-high 15 points and added 10 rebounds. No one in the Big Ten works harder than that guy.

**G Sam Sessoms missed the game with right ankle injury and is day to day. That’s a big loss as he averages 10 points a game off the bench, which leads the Big Ten.

**Stunningly, Ferry did not have G Izaiah Brockington on the court in the final minute for two possessions. He said Brockington had been sitting for so long with four fouls and that some other players were in a flow. It was a very strange move, but it turned out not to be an issue as PSU got the two great shots by Lundy and Jones.

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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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