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After another crushing loss that ends NCAA tourney hopes, PSU can now start cementing plans for future

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jim Ferry

Wow. Could it have really gone any other way? For a Penn State team that has been so, so close all season, only to come up just short, the loss that ended any last-gasp hopes for an NCAA Tournament run came down to a crazy finish and the Nittany Lions being on the wrong side.

Penn State trailed by 18 in the second half against Wisconsin on Thursday night in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, only to roar back and have a chance to win the game.

The Lions got the ball back down one with 18 seconds to go, and Sam Sessoms tried to make a play driving to his right inside of 5 seconds. Sessoms had been a big part of the comeback with some late scooping sores.

But on the play at the end of the game, Sessoms drove and tried to pass but had it deflected. Wisconsin’s Brad Davison grabbed the ball and, falling out of bounds, called a timeout with 0.3 seconds to go.

Here’s the entire play.

That’s a controversial play, because players are not supposed to be able to call timeout while falling out of bounds in college basketball since a rules change a couple of years ago.

But this time, Wisconsin did get the timeout and escaped with a 75-74 win in Indianapolis.

Here’s a closer look at Davison going out of bounds:

“It looked like he was falling out of bounds to me, as well,” PSU interim coach Jim Ferry said when asked. “They said he had his foot down.”

There is a whole lot to get to from this game, so here goes:

**PSU is eliminated from NCAA Tournament consideration. But the Lions have a very good chance to be invited to play in the NIT, which will have a 16-team field and play all the games in Texas.

Now, whether Penn State would accept an NIT bid was in question. The school likely will be looking for a new head coach. The players just may want to call it a season, as the football team did when it decided not to play in a bowl game.

And whose decision would it be to play in the NIT anyway: the players or the administration?

I asked Ferry that after the game. This is what he said:

“We will absolutely play in the NIT, and we are all on the same page — school, the players, we all want to keep this thing going. So, if we get invited, we’d be more than happy. We’d be excited to play in the NIT, absolutely.”

**Sessoms, a high-scoring guard at Binghamton before he transferred to PSU, put the Lions on his back late in the game with some huge buckets. He finished with a season-high 18 points off the bench.

It was unfortunate that he wasn’t able to make a play and committed a turnover in the closing seconds with a chance to win.

“So, the previous, what, three or four possessions we went for the high ball screen with Sam, and he got layups and fouls,” Ferry said. “We went right back at it. You’ve got to give them credit, they did a good job (defending it).”

**OK, so let’s address the emotion of all this. I wrote below that this loss gives the PSU administration the perfect chance to now go out and hire a new coach. You can read it in a bit.

Yes, the Lions fought damn hard to get back in the game. Yes, they play hard for Ferry.

But playing hard and barely losing are NOT enough reasons to keep him as the permanent head coach. Not when there are many more qualified candidates, and certainly not when Ferry has never proven that he can recruit to a high enough level to warrant a Big Ten head coaching job.

This is what longtime PSU writer David Jones of PennLive tweeted after the game:

This came after a game in which Penn State trailed by 18 points in the second half. With the season on the line. After leading by as many as eight in the first half before completely falling apart for about 20 minutes and getting outscored by 26 during that stretch.

Look, I get it that the players showed tremendous heart fighting back. But that happens quite a bit in conference tournaments, when undermanned teams are fighting to keep their season alive.

If you want to judge this PSU team based on how hard it played fighting back in the closing minutes, then we must judge it equally on the fact that the team played terrible basketball for a loooong stretch and was getting destroyed by a team that had lost five of its last six games.

Penn State did this nonsense all year. It played very well at times and absolutely awful at times. It’s one thing to heap praise on a coach because his players keep fighting, but there also must be criticism for that coach because he has not proven AT ALL that he can get his team to play well for the entire 40 minutes.

Ferry’s biggest failure this season has been the horrendous inconsistency shown by his players and in his own coaching. He has been unable to stop the bleeding in numerous games — from Seton Hall early to the many other blown leads in Big Ten play — and to me, that alone is reason enough to think that he should not get the job.

Ferry is a great guy. Absolutely. I talk more about that below. But let’s get real here: You don’t give a Power 5 head coaching job to a great guy whose team plays hard but is wildly inconsistent and loses many more games than it wins.

Yes, the emotion of the comeback Thursday night showed once again that Ferry has done a nice job with this team.

But hell, Penn State was down 18 points and completely collapsed for a large stretch of the game. Why would you want to reward the interim coach of a team who had that happen to it time and again all season?


NOTE: This is the column I had prepared for the end of the game after PSU fell behind big. I give the Lions tons of credit for coming back the way they did in this game, but we cannot forget the big picture:

For the good of the order, for the good of the program going forward, it’s honestly for the best that Penn State lost Thursday night to Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Nittany Lions fought valiantly to the end, as they always do, battling back from 18 down to make things interesting and having a chance to win in the closing seconds.

Sure, it would have been fascinating to see what might have happened had the Nittany Lions beaten the Badgers and maybe shocked Iowa on Friday. Those three wins would have opened the door for the possibility of some bubble discussion come Selection Sunday.

And IF all that had happened, Jim Ferry’s case to be retained as the full-time head coach would have been strengthened.

But we need to be realistic here.

Penn State needs to blow all this up. I wrote that a few weeks ago, and I still believe that’s what needs to happen for this program.

Ferry should not and cannot be retained as head coach.

Penn State needs to go out and find the best head coach it can find — more specifically, the best head coach it can afford on its small budget — and start all over.

RELATED: Giger’s picks for who should and who will be PSU’s next coach

If some of these players transfer, so be it.

If the program falls off a cliff in the next couple of years — where it’s not competitive night in and night out the way it is now — so be it.

This is just what needs to happen. Because it will give Penn State a better chance to have more success in the long run than would be the case if the school hires Ferry.

If Penn State had beaten Wisconsin and then somehow shocked Iowa — things that were certainly possible for this scrappy squad — then it could have skewed the thinking of AD Sandy Barbour and the decision makers into thinking, “Hey, maybe we should keep Ferry and see what happens.”

I really like Jim Ferry. I have great respect for him. He is a good man and a good basketball coach. I wish him nothing but the best.

Ferry deserves credit for helping make this team extremely competitive on a nightly basis. He took over under difficult circumstances after Patrick Chambers resigned under pressure in late October and gave the program a strong, veteran presence as a coach.

But Penn State can find a better head coach than Ferry. There are some terrific candidates who have much better resumes, and we need to see the school go out and hire one of them and see what he can do.

Again, if by some chance this Penn State team would have messed around and gotten back onto the NCAA bubble, it could have clouded the judgment of some folks and forced them to consider making a decision that would not be in the best interests of the program for the long haul.

It’s not personal, it’s business.

It’s not personal, it’s business. (I love when Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan that over and over in “You’ve Got Mail.”)

Personally, I would love to have seen Ferry get to the NCAA Tournament this year, get the full-time job and lead the PSU program for many years. He is an awesome coach to deal with from a media perspective, and selfishly, that does matter to us schlubs when you’re covering a team.

But with this loss, it now makes things a lot easier for Barbour and the search committee.

Despite being competitive against the toughest schedule in the country, Penn State is 11-14 overall.

The Lions went 7-12 in the Big Ten, 8-13 if you include the two games in the conference tournament.

That’s not good enough. Certainly not when considering how horribly inconsistent this team has been, not just from game to game, but within many individual games. The Lions have epitomized Jekyll & Hyde with their schizophrenic play, and it happened again in Thursday’s loss to Wisconsin.

Penn State was up, 24-16. Then got outscored by 26 points over the next 20 minutes, to trail 66-48. Then the Lions nearly erased all of an 18-point deficit.

Bottom line is, it’s time to go get a new coach.

Now, as I’ve written on several occasions, Penn State fans need to be fully prepared for what’s going to happen next.

There is every reason to believe that some — or many — of the best players on this team will transfer during the offseason. They’re pissed off at the administration for how it handled the Chambers situation, which made this entire COVID-plagued season even more difficult than it’s been for other college teams around the country.

No matter who PSU hires, there’s a very good chance the team is going to be flat out terrible for a year or two. Maybe it won’t be so bad if the next coach can convince some of the best players to return, but that seems like a slim possibility.

The next coach needs to be given a few years to rebuild, with the hope that what comes out on the other end will be a more polished product that not only can compete night in and night out, but actually win more games.

Chambers was doing a nice job of all that before he got himself into the mess he did, which led to him getting ousted.

There are some good players on this team who will be highly sought after this offseason if they enter the transfer portal. But maybe the next coach will be able to lure some other quality players from the portal and offer them a chance to play a lot at a Big Ten school.

Along with Ferry, I have a lot of respect for the players on this PSU team for how they continued to come out and compete at a high level all season, despite having so many things go against them, including a number of crushing losses in close games. It really would have been cool to see them rewarded with an NCAA Tournament appearance.

But since it’s now clear that will not happen, we all need to start preparing for the future of Penn State basketball. And that future must include a new head coach.

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Written By

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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