Penn State Dominates Utah For NIT Crown
The Penn State Nittany Lions were one of many teams that did not hear their names get called on selection Sunday, but they have turned that disappointment into triumph as they went on a great run in the Post season NIT. The Nittany Lions are no strangers to NYC and Madison square garden just a few weeks ago, the Nittany Lions went on a run in the Big Ten Tourney in this same building. Penn State’s run in that tournament ended on a bad note with a loss to Michigan in the Semi-finals. This time atound the Nittany Lions wanted to make sure they left New York champs. Their run in the NIT was dominant and they finished strong in the championship game beating Utah 82-66.
The game started out heavily in Utah’s favor as they built a 10-6 lead in the first quarter, that lead would soon build to 20-14 as the Utah Utes clicked on all cylinders. The Nittany Lions were able to shake off their slow start and out score Utah 25-14 in the rest of the first half to take a 39-34 lead at halftime. In the third quarter Penn State started to pull away quickly from Utah outscoring them 24-14 to take a 63-48 lead. Most outstanding Player Lamar Stevens who reached 1000 career points tonight credits their defense for the massive run. “I think we really started focusing in on the defensive end. Barefield he really had it going in the first half, and we really focused in on shutting him down. We were really able to get stops and get out in transition”. Penn State went on to cruise to an 82-66 victory. It was a win that was monumental for a basketball program that has struggled in the past and was never taken seriously because of the school’s reputation for football. “I think we have proven to a lot of people across the country that Penn State basketball is here to stay. It’s not just a steppingstone, it’s a destination”.
Winning the NIT Championship is special for the trio of Sophmores Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and senior Shep Garner. Three players from Philadelphia who have been playing basketball together since they were on the same AAU team. Winning a championship with longtime friends is a great feeling for Shep Garner. “It feels great to know that we all come from the same place and we end up playing together in college. We did something special. You know, this group of guys, I wouldn’t pick another group of guys This is definitely special”. Tony Carr who scored 15 points dished out 14 assists and grabbed nine rebounds heard chants of “One More Year” late in the game from Penn State fans who feared him declaring for the NBA draft and leaving Penn State. Carr hasn’t made a decision yet but he knows what to do once that time comes. “I’m talking to the coaching staff and my family, and then just make the best decision going forward”. If Carr does happen to forgo the rest of his eligibility and declare for the NBA draft, he could be the first Penn State player to be drafted since Calvin Booth in 1999.
Penn State reaching and winning the NIT Championship game was big for the tournament. The Pro-penn state crowd contributed heavily to the 11,175 people who were in attendance. That’s the most people at an NIT Championship game since 2005.
Winning the NIT is a sign of progression for the Penn State basketball program. If and when the team succeeds and makes multiple NCAA appearances in the future, they can look back at the 2017-18 season and say this is where it all started in the Mecca.