INDIANAPOLIS — For a brief moment, it appeared Penn State would get one final chance at a game-tying look in its 69-61 loss to Purdue.
Jalen Pickett’s mid-range jumper had missed, but the rebound had bounced out to the wing, giving either Jaheam Cornwall or Sam Sessoms a chance to grab it and reset the possession. With the Nittany Lions down 3 and 52 seconds to play, a comeback victory was still within their grasp.
Instead, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey took their chance away.
Despite the seemingly fortuitous bounce to the wing, Ivey shot to the spot and got there first, then raced downcourt for a layup to create a two-possession game. Suddenly, Penn State had to scramble for whatever shot they could get, which played right into the hands of the Boilermakers’ defense. The Nittany Lions finished by missing their final five looks at the hoop and Purdue closed the door, ending Penn State’s run in the Big Ten tournament in the quarterfinals on Friday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
“That was just a hard-fought game,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “We knew how tough it would be. It’s always like a tough emotional game for me playing against those guys you spend so many times, so many years with, but I thought they played great.
“Our guys, man, they’re just some warriors. I love our fight, I love how we compete. The guys that are seniors kind of put their blind trust in me and they didn’t have to, and the way that they fought and the way that they competed all year, man, I’m so proud of these guys.”
The Nittany Lions (14-17) gave themselves plenty to be proud about in their third game in three days, as they made clear from the beginning that they intended to take the fight to the Boilermakers (26-6). Despite giving away seven inches to Purdue star center Zach Edey, Penn State senior John Harrar played like a man possessed from the opening minute, and the rest of the Nittany Lions followed his example.
Harrar got the game started with two quick baskets in the paint and helped Penn State start the game on a 12-2 run, which proved instrumental in allowing the Nittany Lions to stick with the Boilermakers from beginning to end. Harrar closed his Penn State career with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Jalen Pickett paced Penn State with 16 points.
“(We were) playing for our seniors,” said Pickett, who confirmed that he will take advantage of the extra year available to him and return to University Park next year. “I think that’s something that we all knew we had to do. It’s tournament time and the energy we were giving each and every night, getting wins really gave us the motivation to keep playing. “
But the Nittany Lions’ motivation ran headfirst into Purdue’s combination of talent and desire. Despite solid defense on him all night, Ivey led all scorers with 17 points, with his final basket being the one that hurt the most.
“That’s just all our hustle,” Ivey said. “I knew we had to get that rebound and there was one man on the fast break, so I knew I could get to my back and try to help my team win.”
The same held for Purdue reserve Brandon Newman, who came off the Boilermakers’ bench to score 12 points, his first points since Jan. 17. For Shrewsberry, Newman’s performance was bittersweet, because the ex-Purdue assistant had routinely texted Newman during his spell on the Boilers’ bench to offer words of encouragement to a player he’d once coached.
“He was ready for his moment tonight,” Shrewsberry said. “I stopped him in the huddle (after the game) and I was like, ‘Man, I was encouraging you and all that and you do that to me? Some friend you are.’ But I’m happy for that kid, man. He earned it, he deserved it. he kept his head up, so good for him.”
Despite the defeat, the Nittany Lions likely closed out their season with a strong showing in Indianapolis. Penn State fell behind by as many as 12 points, yet fought to the final minute with a team that has Final Four aspirations, a microcosm of their season.
“No matter what our record looks like, I’m proud of what we did, how we fought,” Shrewsberry said. “When we were down, we always came back. That’s going to carry on for those guys in life, that’s going to carry on in this program, that’s who I want us to be. You know, we’ll be back, like I said. We’ll be back again next year.”