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Could NIT be in PSU’s future? Lions help hopes with blowout win on senior night

Photo from Penn State Twitter: John Harrar

Penn State routed Minnesota, 84-65, on senior night Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Three PSU seniors scored in double figures in the blowout win, with Trent Buttrick leading the way for the seniors with 13 points.

John Harrar had 12 points and Jamari Wheeler 10 on their senior night. The Nittany Lions were led by Myreon Jones, who came off the bench and had 17 points.

Penn State improved to 9-13 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten with one league game remaining. They’ll close out Big Ten play at Maryland on Sunday, then head to the Big Ten Tournament.

Penn State’s NCAA Tournament hopes disappeared after it lost five of six heading into Wednesday’s game. But there still could be a chance for the Lions to make it to the NIT, if they can win a few more games.

The NIT will be down to a 16-team field this season, making it difficult for PSU to get in. But if the Lions could beat Maryland and then win two games in the Big Ten Tournament, it could put them in position for a chance at an NIT bid.

Under that scenario, Penn State would be 12-14 overall and 9-13 against Big Ten competition. There is no .500 record requirement in order to play in the NIT, so PSU could receive a bid if the tournament committee felt it was worthy.

Penn State’s resume was good enough to keep it on the NCAA Tournament bubble for weeks despite a poor overall record. The Lions’ NIT hopes could hinge on the same factors — some good wins this season and a strong NCAA NET ranking, currently No. 51.

“Bouncing back: Wheeler on this big win after bad loss to Purdue: “One thing before we came out of the locker room to play, (Coach Ferry) wrote on the board ‘respond.’ Respond from the last game. That wasn’t us, and we didn’t want to go out like that.”

Matching record: This group of Penn State seniors has now won 33 Big Ten games, tying the record set by the seniors who played from 2016-20. These seniors can break the record with a win at Maryland on Sunday.

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Great senior sendoff: Jamari Wheeler on the big win on senior night. “It felt good. We were just taking pictures out there and joking, saying when all the seniors started for the first time, we’re 1-0.

“That’ll be a moment we’ll never forget.”

Jim Ferry’s thoughts: “It was just great tonight the way our seniors played, and everybody played for the seniors. We looked extremely unselfish. We had 19 assists. I think guys were just really laying it out for each other. We had a dud the other night against Purdue, and we all challenged each other to make sure that’s now we’re going out. Guys really played hard for each other, and you could see the passion, you could see the love.”

Buttrick’s jam: Buttrick had a monster two-handed dunk late in the game, over a Minnesota defender. “(It was) an exclamation point on the win,” Buttrick said. “Last game in the Bryce Jordan Center, so it feels good. It feels really good.”

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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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