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Giger: When on bubble, PSU just can’t lose games like this

Photo from Penn State Twitter (USA Today): John Harrar

There aren’t a ton of Penn State basketball fans around, but the fans who do exist care deeply about the program.

And what do the diehard fans get in return so, so often? Their hearts broken.

It happened again Tuesday night, in a devastating loss for a team that’s on the NCAA Tournament bubble and simply cannot afford to keep giving games away.

The Nittany Lions showed a lot of fight battling back from 12 down in the second half Tuesday night at Michigan State, and they were in position for a HUGE win, up 58-54 with 3:16 to go.

Then things fell apart for Penn State. Again.

The Lions didn’t score again, and Michigan State scored the final six points to steal a 60-58 win.

Myles Dread missed an open 3-pointer from the left wing for a chance at the lead with 11 seconds left. Michigan State rebounded and was fouled, then missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving PSU one more chance.

But Dread again missed a 3-pointer as he was heavily defended. The buzzer went off while the ball was in the air, and even though John Harrar tipped it in, the game was already over.

**What it means: This is a big loss for PSU, which was looking to improve to 5-7 in the Big Ten. Instead, they are 4-8 in the league and 7-9 overall.

As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the Lions can probably get into the NCAA Tournament by finishing 8-10 in the league, and a win here would have gotten them closer. Now, a game against Nebraska on Sunday should be another win, but finding three more after that to get to eight will be tough.

**Penn State entered the game in the No. 72 spot in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology on ESPN. The Lions were the last team listed in the first four out.

**One thing that really hurts here is that Michigan State simply is not very good. This was a golden opportunity to get a good win on the road against a struggling Spartans team, and the Lions were in position to do it. But credit Michigan State, which has made the NCAA Tournament for 22 consecutive seasons and showed a lot of heart fighting back in the final three minutes to get a win and keep their slim NCAA hopes alive. Michigan State is 4-7 in the Big Ten and 10-7 overall.

** “We’re plugging away. This is a tough league to win on the road. We’re putting ourselves in position to,” interim coach Jim Ferry said.

Then he added this:

“This is gonna help us later in the season, whether it’s Big Ten Tournament or late in the year it’s gonna help us, because we’ve been in so many close games.”

You would expect a coach to say something like that after yet another close loss. But the reality is that PSU only has six regular-season games left and needs to win at least four of them. This is the remaining schedule: vs. Nebraska, vs. Ohio State, at Iowa, vs. Purdue, vs. Minnesota, at Maryland.

There comes a point, at 4-8 in the league and already on the outside of the bubble, when you must win TODAY and can’t just fall back on learning a valuable lesson that will help you later on.

I asked Ferry if there’s enough time left to get this figured out and get the wins needed.

“Yes, I think so,” Ferry said. “OK, so, we’ve got to just keep grinding and getting better, focus on getting better. … We’ve just got to keep plugging, keep getting better and focus on one day at a time. We can’t look at running out of games. We’re not running out of games. We’ve got a bunch of games ahead of us that we’ve got to play.”

**Penn State trailed 32-24 at the half and by as many as 12 (36-24) early in the second half.

**An enormous lane violation on Penn State allowed Michigan State to tie at 58 with 2:06 left. PSU was whistled after Joey Hauser missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Given another chance, Hauser made two free throws to pull the Spartans even.

**Penn State came all the way back and tied it at 41 on a corner 3 from Sam Sessoms. On the next MSU trip, the Spartans missed and John Harrar had his hands on the rebound. It’s tough to get the ball away from Harrar, but that’s what the Spartans’ Malik Hall did as he pulled it away and scored for a 43-41 lead. TV broadcaster Dan Dakich called it the play of the game at that point, and it started a 9-1 run that put Michigan State up 50-42 with 9 minutes left.

**Myreon Jones drove in for a bucket that gave Penn State a 52-51 lead with 6:16 to go, the Lions’ first lead since 6-5. Jones went on to score eight straight points to give PSU a 58-54 lead.

**Seth Lundy had zero points. That is a big, big problem. He is far too talented to be this inconsistent. The Lions have to get some kind of production out of him.

**John Harrar tied his career highs with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. He is a WARRIOR.

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