Josh Reaves and Shep Garner are both averaging 10.3 points per game this season, but with Mike Watkins out for the Big Ten Tournament, the duo needed to step up if Penn State was to have any chance at success in the tournament.
In the two games Watkins was injured, Penn State lost at home to Michigan and on the road against Nebraska. Reaves and Garner combined for only 11 points against the Wolverines and 14 points against the Cornhuskers.
When Tony Carr needed the help in Thursday’s win against Northwestern, Reaves and Garner upped their game. Reaves finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds, while Garner finished with 12 points on four made three-pointers.
The two guards combined for 24 points in the win against Ohio State, but they were much more important in the victory than just the sum of their points. The two players led the Nittany Lions to a comeback win with an assist from Carr.
Down one point with 21 seconds to go, Garner forced a steal against the much bigger Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. Carr drove through the lane with less than ten seconds left, then dished it to an open Reaves for the gam-winning dunk with 3.1 second remaining.
“[Garner] embodies what Penn State basketball is,” Coach Pat Chambers said after the Nittany Lions’ win over Northwester Thursday, when Garner forced Scottie Lindsey’s fifth foul of the game.
Chambers will continue to rely on Carr when Penn State needs a basket, and Lamar Stevens is still a great second option and will continue to put up shots. But support from Reaves and Garner will be key for the Nittany Lions to defeat Purdue in their semifinal matchup.
And for Garner, the stakes are even higher, as keeping Penn State’s Big Ten Tournament run alive is also keeping his collegiate career alive.
“At this point it isn’t about me, it’s what we are doing for Julian [Moore] and Shep [Garner],” Reaves said after the team’s win over Northwestern. “We are trying to do everything to keep their careers alive.”