Alex Marcotullio, Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire bid adieu in a ceremony before Northwestern's 66-59 loss to Penn State, but what everyone in the house wanted to know was whether it was also coach Bill Carmody's last game at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Carmody is wondering that too.
Phillips, who attended the postgame news conference as usual, conducted a five-day review last year before announcing Carmody would return for a 13th season.
Phillips told the Tribune before Thursday's game that given the increased speculation, he plans to take less time this year.
The Wildcats (13-17, 4-13 Big Ten) locked up the 11th seed in next week's conference tournament at the United Center. They will face the No. 6 seed — Illinois, Iowa or Minnesota — at about 8 p.m. Thursday.
Northwestern needed this victory to avoid a likely nine-game losing streak to end the season. But other than Marcotullio's lights-out shooting — he drilled 6 of 9 from 3-point range — the Wildcats did little right, turning it over 15 times while allowing a bevy of unchallenged 3-pointers.
A Marcotullio 3-pointer gave NU a 54-53 lead with 6 minutes, 15 seconds to play, but missed shots and terrible interior defense doomed the Wildcats down the stretch.
"It's about time some of them started going in," Marcotullio said after scoring a career-high 22 points in his 126th college game. "But we had too many turnovers. I blame myself because I had five, which is crazy."
Hearn got a standing ovation form the crowd of 5,517 after fouling out with 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"I heard it in the back of my head, and it felt good," he said. "But I'm sure I would have appreciated it more if we had gone out on a good note."
Carmody's situation feels like what transpired last year at Illinois, where Bruce Weber put himself on the chopping block by losing nine of his last 10 games. But Carmody's roster got torn apart by season-ending injuries to Swopshire, Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin and JerShon Cobb's season-long suspension.
Penn State, which entered 0-17 in Big Ten road games under coach Patrick Chambers, improved to 10-19, 2-15.
Chambers stuck up for his colleague, saying: "I've never seen injuries like this in my entire life. The way they were able to compete and stay in games, it's a credit to Coach Carmody."