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Wisconsin 75, Penn State 74: Fun While It Lasted

Penn State nearly pulled off another improbable comeback but alas, fell just short.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Wisconsin Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The game started out like your typical low-scoring PSU-Wisconsin slugfest with the game only tied at five points apiece five minutes in. PSU would eventually rip off a 9-2 run to take the lead, thanks to some solid perimeter shooting from Jamari Wheeler, Myreon Jones, and even Trent Buttrick knocking down a trey to push the lead to 24-16 with less than eight minutes to go in the half.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for the Nittany Lions, as the Badgers caught fire from downtown (Wisconsin went 6-for-10 from three-point range in the first half) and revved up the defensive tenacity, twice forcing shot clock violations on PSU. Wisconsin’s Aleem Ford nailed a trey at the buzzer to give the Badgers a 41-31 halftime lead, completing an incredible 18-point turnaround.

The Badgers picked up where they left off to start the second half. Ford continued to remain en fuego from downtown as PSU never got closer than within ten points the rest of the way. It seemed like we were heading towards an anti-climactic ending for a team that had pulled off some dramatic second half rallies as of late...

Not so fast, my friend! PSU indeed, had one more rally up their sleeves. Trailing 68-50 with less than eight minutes to play, the Nittany Lions gradually cut into the deficit over the next five minutes. Things really began to feel different when Sessoms made a layup to cut it to seven with 2:20 left. This was followed by Izaiah Brockington nailing a pair of free throws to cut it down to five with 1:46 left. Sessoms then stole the ball on Wisconsin’s next possession and eventually drew a foul on the other end, making both of his free throws to cut it to three with 1:22 remaining.

John Harrar came up with a clutch block on Wisconsin’s next possession, sending it out of bounds with just a few seconds left on the shot clock. After several minutes of review to make sure the ball didn’t touch a Wisconsin player, the referees gave the ball to Wisconsin underneath the basket. However, after catching the in-bounds lob, Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers was whistled for a travel call, giving the ball back to PSU with 54 seconds left. Sessoms would again work his magic, driving to the rack for the layup to make it a one-point game with 46 seconds left. Wisconsin misfired on their subsequent possession with 20 seconds left as Harrar grabbed the rebound and PSU had a chance to win it.

Unfortunately, with no timeouts remaining for Jim Ferry to use in order to draw up a play, PSU had to improvise. Sessoms once again drove to his right into the paint and appeared to try to lob the ball up for Harrar, but it was intercepted by Reuvers, who somehow managed to call a timeout in the process of diving out of bounds with less than second remaining. A heartbroken Sessoms crumpled to the Lucas Oil Stadium court as Wisconsin ran off the remaining ticks.

Four Factors

As you can see, the teams were pretty even in all but one of the categories. Normally, in tight games where one team is significantly out-rebounding the other, the team with the rebounding advantage ends up pulling it out. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case tonight for PSU.

Player Of The Game

Sam Sessoms was a real sparkplug off the bench, leading the team in scoring with 18 points and showed great poise and fearlessness in taking the ball to the rack. Here’s to hoping he sticks with the team under the soon-to-be-hired coaching staff.

Random Observations

  • All About The Tempo - When PSU led midway through the first half, they were forcing the tempo to a faster one they were comfortable with, which clearly made Wisconsin uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the Badgers were able to get a grip on things and slow the pace down to something more to their liking, which allowed them to sit in autopilot leading anywhere between 10-18 points in the second half.
  • Harrar’s Foul Troubles - John Harrar spent the last nine minutes of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul. Trent Buttrick sure puts in a good effort, but Harrar being out opens up the post for feasting by opponents and Wisconsin did not hesitate to take advantage when they weren’t busy killing it from the perimeter.
  • Ummm, Shot Clock? - It wouldn’t be a game where PSU loses a close one without some bungling refereeing thrown in. Early on, Wisconsin scored a basket when the shot was launched clearly after the shot clock had expired. The officials didn’t do a damn thing of course, and it turns out to have bit PSU in the behind.

Up Next

Penn State (11-14, 8-13) will now have to wait until Sunday to find out their postseason fate. While their NCAA Tournament hopes have been dashed, an NIT invite is still a possibility. NIT Bracketology blog The Barking Crow had PSU projected as a No. 2 seed in the NIT going into tonight’s game. They had PSU as a No. 3 seed last night prior to the Nebraska win, so it’s hard to see this loss dropping PSU much, if at all. The season may not be over yet, folks.