On Thursday night the Penn State Nittany Lions ended their season with a championship for the first time in coach Pat Chambers’ tenure with the team, finishing their season with a record of 26-13. Penn State defeated Utah by an 82-66 final score in a game where the full potential of this team was put on full display to claim the NIT crown for the first time since 2009. After struggling to convert shots early in the game the Nittany Lions found themselves down by six. A well-timed timeout from coach Chambers allowed Penn State the opportunity to refocus and put on a 10-0 run which turned their deficit into a four-point lead at the end of the first quarter. From there, Utah struggled to create their own offense and failed to stop the attack of Penn State. The Utes pulled back within two at one point but the Nittany Lions had an answer for any run that Utah managed to put together.
This smooth victory was the cherry on top of an NIT tournament run that saw Penn State survive a first-round scare at home vs Temple and put together impressive road wins vs talented Notre Dame and Marquette squads. Penn State returned to Madison Square Garden where they competed in the Big Ten championship tournament for the final two rounds of the NIT. In the semi-final round, Penn State dominated Mississippi State 75-60 to advance to the final where they faced Utah.
In the final, sophomore Lamar Stevens dominated and his efforts were rewarded with the NIT MVP award. He finished the effort against Utah with 28 points on 11-15 shooting. John Harrar replaced the injured Mike Watkins as the Penn State big man for the tournament. A pleasant surprise for the Nittany Lions, Harrar finished the game with 7 points and 12 rebounds. Tony Carr was true to form, he had 15 points, 14 assists, and 9 rebounds. The highly touted sophomore guard finished just one rebound shy of only the second triple-double in team history. Josh Reaves had 18 points and 6 rebounds. Shep Garner and Julian Moore had 8 and 6 points respectively in their final games for Penn State.
Critics will say that this tournament win doesn’t matter, those critics clearly didn’t watch any of the games. With the exception of their game vs Temple, Penn State came out in every contest emotionally charged and ready to play. This run meant a lot to the Nittany Lions and it was fun to watch the guys close their season on a high note after the disappointment of missing out on the NCAA tournament. Capping off their year with a victory will change the dynamic of the Penn State locker room, attitude in off-season workouts and general feeling surrounding the team. Don’t get caught up in the scrutiny, Penn State has a legitimate reason to celebrate this victory.
The NIT was a step forward in this program’s climb but the Nittany Lions need to use this momentum to propel themselves into the big dance next year. Luckily history favors them in this task. Of NIT finalists since 2010, seven teams have made the NCAA tournament the next season, six of which earned top six seeds.
The future looks bright for Penn State Basketball. We know three of their starters are returning next season for sure (Reaves, Watkins, and Stevens). Nittany Lion fans will have to await the decision of Tony Carr to find out whether or not their point guard will be in the NBA or State College next season. Regardless Penn State will be a preseason pick to make the NCAA tournament and this NIT title provides the fanbase with tangible evidence that this thing is going somewhere. The cycle of mediocrity may be a thing of the past for the Penn State basketball program.
Shep Garner is gone so Penn State will need an emotional leader to step up next season. Garner leaves Penn State as the program’s all-time leader in three point shots made, he finishes second all-time in Big Ten history in the same category. THANK YOU SHEP! We will certainly miss your passion and electrifying style. That being said I believe Tony Carr will come back for his junior year and Penn State will return their four best starters. This team is a serious threat to claim the Big Ten title next year…Tony Carr has said he will make an announcement about his future in the next two weeks.
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