‘All We Need Is A Chance’: Penn State Hoops Hopeful For NCAA Tournament Bid Despite Dwindling Odds
Penn State men’s basketball converted one shot in the final 13 minutes of play against Rutgers Sunday night. Jalen Pickett posted zero shot attempts throughout the entire second half. Seth Lundy, Myles Dread, and Andrew Funk each had perfectly manufactured opportunities to sink the tying three-pointer in the final seconds of the game, and none were successful.
What once was the story of an electric Bryce Jordan Center crowd riding the high of a 19-point second-half lead quickly turned into an abysmal look into March and receding hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Head coach Micah Shrewsberry was quick to own some of the blame for Penn State’s loss but ultimately decided the fumbled game wouldn’t determine the outlook for the remainder of the season.
“Season’s not over. We got a game on Wednesday,” Shrewsberry said. “If [the seniors] had to take their jersey off and go home after tonight, they’d probably feel a bit different. But we got a lot of games left. There are games left to play.”
While there are in fact two regular-season games left to play before the Big Ten Tournament begins, not acknowledging the madness that occurred inside the BJC Sunday night would be wrong.
Funk and Lundy totaled a combined 10 points, and Pickett posted 11. While it’s clear that Funk has been ice cold from just about anywhere for the last week, Lundy’s lack of conversions against Rutgers was something new for the Nittany Lions. Since Pickett was locked down nearly all night, Lundy was in prime position to step up, but his shots failed to sink.
“I’m going to trust him,” Shrewsberry said of Lundy. “The shots aren’t falling, but maybe there’s one that goes in. That’s what we’re going to lean on. I’m going to go with [Lundy] until the wheels fall off. Tonight wasn’t his night.”
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off. With a ranked-Northwestern squad and Maryland left on the schedule, a win against Rutgers was as important as it gets in terms of seeing the Big Dance. Victories over Minnesota and Ohio State feel inconsequential when breakdowns like Sunday night occur.
“It’s tough. It was a must-win game,” Camren Wynter said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it, so now we just have to turn our back and get the next two to hopefully put us in a better position.”
Wynter tied Rutgers freshman Derek Simpson for the most points in the game with 16 by way of three triples, three jumpers, and a free-throw conversion. For the point guard who averaged 7.7 points per game as of February 19, Wynter exploded to a 19.5 scoring average through the last week of play.
While it’s refreshing to see a fifth-year senior like Wynter falling into place after his transfer from Drexel, the loss is still louder.
“We let go of the rope a few times when we had opportunities,” Shrewsberry said. “You got to hit singles. I felt like we went for a home run way too many times, way too many times instead of just being simple.”
The Scarlet Knights took advantage of the Nittany Lions’ overcomplicating play and lack of consistency to register a 7-0 run before halftime and a nine-minute Penn State drought to close the game.
“I thought Steve Pikiell completely out-coached and coached circles around me tonight,” Shrewsberry said. “I got to put our guys in better position to be successful. We want to win games like this…[Rutgers] hit every timely basket that they needed to make, and we missed a lot of them.”
As a lack of regular season games continues to make or break teams on the bubble, Penn State has more than its fair share of graduating seniors playing out their last season in the blue and white.
“We have a lot of fighters on our team,” Wynter said. “A lot of guys just need a chance. I think that all we need is a chance to put us in great position come Selection Sunday.”
Until Selection Sunday rolls around on March 12, the Nittany Lions will close out the regular season against Northwestern and Maryland and roll into the Big Ten Tournament on March 8.
In the meantime, Shrewsberry plans to swallow the tough losses and move forward toward what’s to come.
“That’s on the coach,” he said. “I’ll be better.”
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