Penn State Basketball’s second half comeback falls short in loss to Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, NJ - MARCH 06: Caleb McConnell #22 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights loses control of the ball as John Harrar #21 of the Penn State Nittany Lions dives over him during the first half of a game at Jersey Mike's Arena on March 6, 2022 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PISCATAWAY, NJ - MARCH 06: Caleb McConnell #22 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights loses control of the ball as John Harrar #21 of the Penn State Nittany Lions dives over him during the first half of a game at Jersey Mike's Arena on March 6, 2022 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Penn State Basketball took Rutgers to the brink in the regular-season finale, but the Nittany Lions’ comeback bid came up short in the Garden State

Trailing by as much as 15, Penn State Basketball had a shot at the buzzer to win, but fell 59-58 against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Jersey Mike’s Center on Sunday.

Penn State Basketball (12-16, 7-13) finishes the season on a three game losing streak, their third three game conference losing streak on the year. Likewise, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season with just one road win at Northwestern two months ago.

The losing streak cost Micah Shrewsberry’s team a really good chance at a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, instead now needing to win five games in five days to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State Basketball was led John Harrar, who’s played in more games than any player in Penn State Basketball history. Harrar finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds.  Seth Lundy added 17 points on just 12 shots.

On Rutgers Senior ‘Night’ in front of another sellout crowd at the Jersey Mike’s Arena (aka the RAC) and their largest crowd since 2002, Penn State Basketball went the familiar starting lineup of Jalen Pickett, Dallion Johnson, Lundy, Greg Lee and Harrar.  Rutgers started in a 2-3 zone, completely flummoxing the Nittany Lions and forcing a shot clock violation on the first Penn State possession, a fitting representation of the Nittany Lions offense all day.

Shrewsberry was forced to call an early timeout as Rutgers opened up a 15-5 lead.

Penn State Basketball, playing their traditional slow down game, was forced to rely on end of shot clock threes, making only one of their first eight. The Scarlet Knights, despite losing their center with two first half fouls in the opening minute, are used to a defensive style match-up and forced three PSU turn overs in the opening eight minutes.

The third (!) Penn State Basketball shot clock violation of the half allowed Rutgers to open an 11 point lead, but five free throws (Lundy 3, Harrar 2) helped the Nittany Lions chip the lead back down to six but back to back run out slam dunks blew the roof off the rafters.

Penn State Basketball got as close as four but making just one three pointer (out of 12 attempts…curious strategy given Rutgers starting center Clifford Omoruyi played less than 1 minute due to foul trouble) gave the Scarlet Knights a 29-21 lead at the half.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Penn State Basketball opened the second half very slow as a Rutgers 7-0 run pushed the lead to 36-21, forcing Shrewsberry to call timeout. What play did we draw up? 29 seconds of dribbling and a end of shot clock fadeaway from Pickett … sigh.

Penn State Basketball showed a little life, finally attacking the rim early in the shot clock.  Six straight points from Sessoms and Lundy gave the Nittany Lions hope but a Harper Jr. and-1 pushed the lead back to 14 with 13:37 to go.

A Myles Dread three cut the Rutgers lead to 10 with 10:40 to go, Penn State’s second three of the game.

Penn State switched to zone, which again caused issues cleaning up the glass as Rutgers gobbled up second chance possessions.  But a Pickett three and Lundy ally-oop lay-in off a Sessom steal got Penn State within eight, forcing a Rutgers timeout with 7:45 remaining.

Rutgers drew up an easy ally-oop slam but Penn State answered with a Dread three and two missed Rutgers free throws gave the Nittany Lions life but Sessoms was caled for the hook driving to the basket.  A Rutgers missed dunk resulted in a Lundy three to cut the lead to four with just three minutes left!

A quick Sessoms steal led to Harrar making two free throws and just like that, one possession game out of nowhere and a Lundy floater tied the game up at 55 all, timeout Scarlet Knights with 1:53 to go, the first time the game was tied since 3-3!

A tough call against Lundy set Harper, Jr. to the line but he only made one free throw but Lundy was called for a pushoff on the next Nittany Lion possession but Lundy responded by blocking the Rutgers shot on the next possession, timeout called by Shrewsberry, down 56-55 with 0:52 left.

Sessoms, perhaps going for the ‘two-for-one’, took a tough early in the shot clock fadeaway jumper.

Penn State then fouled despite an eight second different between game and shot clock?  Caleb McConnell calmly made both to push the lead back to three and Penn State called their final timeout.

Sessoms shot made sense if you were trying to ensure the last possession, which they would have earned but fouling right away eliminates that strategy so there may have been some confusion with Penn State’s end of game strategy.

A quick Greg Lee three point attempt seemed like an unusual play to draw up, but the three rimmed off and Rutgers made a free throw to stretch the lead to four.  Sessoms drained a quick pull-up three to cut the lead to one, Rutgers timeout with 7.2 seconds left.

Unbelievably, Rutgers threw away the inbounds and Penn State had the ball down one with a chance to win.  However, they didn’t seem to quite know how much time was left as a deep rushed Sessoms three was airballed and Rutgers survived.

Penn State will play on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, likely at 8:30 pm Wednesday March 9th vs Nebraska, who destroyed the Nittany Lions in their only matchup this year.  The entire Big Ten Tournament bracket will be released later tonight.