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Penn State Basketball Wins NIT Championship, Dominating Utah 82-66

Penn State (26-13) defeated Utah (23-12) 82-66 to claim the NIT championship for the second time in school history on Thursday night.

Lamar Stevens had an extremely efficient night from the floor, finishing with 28 points en route to winning the NIT Most Outstanding Player award. Tony Carr also had an impressive game, finishing one rebound shy of a triple-double and an NIT-record 14 assists.

The Nittany Lions have now won 10 straight NIT games dating back to its 2009 run, and have been tournament champions in its last two appearances.

How It Happened

Tony Carr and Shep Garner led the Nittany Lions to a win against Mississippi State in the semifinal, but it wasn’t the same story early on. The duo went 0-for-4 to begin the game, with the three other starters scoring the first 14 points for the Nittany Lions. Utah came about blazing hot, making six straight shots to take a 20-14 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the first period. Sedrick Barefield guided the Utes, making his first three shots from beyond the arc, finishing the quarter with a team-high 11 points. Stevens and Reaves would counter for Penn State, combining for 17, with Reaves skying for an alley-oop slam as the first quarter buzzer sounded.

With the score 21-20, Carr splashed his first three of the game to put the Nittany Lions up by four. From there, Penn State’s offense really started to heat up. They went on a 13-7 run, hitting 60 percent of its shots in the quarter by the time there was 2:50 left. Another storyline was the outstanding play of John Harrar on the glass, snatching 10 boards in the first half alone. Utah made a little bit of a comeback to finish out the half, cutting the lead to only five. Penn State’s biggest lead was ten, with Lamar Stevens leading the way with 14 points for the Nittany Lions.

Stevens picked up right where he left off in the second half, sinking his first two baskets to bring his point total to 18. Utah guard Justin Bibbins kept the came close, but the Nittany Lions slowly became too much for the Utes to handle. An 11-2 run stretched the lead to 11 points, capped by a Josh Reaves and-one layup. This was a much-needed performance for Reaves, as he only managed three and nine points against Marquette and Mississippi State, respectively. Garner finally hit his first three of the game at the 5:12 mark of the third quarter after draining six in the semifinal game. As the quarter came to a close, it was clear that Penn State had this one in hand. Carr had back-to-back assists to Julian Moore, giving him a double-double with 11 points and 11 assists at the end of three periods.

The final period of Penn State’s season saw the Nittany Lion lead grow to as much as 20 points. Stevens and Carr continued to do what they’ve done all season long, hitting jumpers and dishing to open teammates.  Many wrote off the Nittany Lions after the injury to Mike Watkins, but coach Pat Chambers showed that his squad deserved a spot in the NCAA Tournament by cruising through the NIT semifinals and championship game.

Player Of The Game

Tony Carr | Sophomore | Guard

He may have struggled from the field (5-for-16), but Carr’s overall impact was remarkable. He ended with 15 points, nine rebounds, and 14 assists. He had a lot of help from his partner in crime Lamar Stevens, but both were key reasons that the Nittany Lions won the NIT. Look for the team to take a major step forward with them in the Big Ten conference next season.

What’s Next

Although the Nittany Lions missed out on the NCAA Tournament this year, they certainly exceeded expectations. The season a lot of ups and downs, but ultimately ended with a win. They lose one starter in senior Shep Garner this offseason, but are in great shape to contend in the Big Ten next season. With the Carr-Stevens duo returning, as well as center Mike Watkins becoming healthy, this will truly be a team to be reckoned with in 2018-19.

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About the Author

Austin Smith

Austin Smith is a junior broadcast journalism major. He grew up in New Jersey and is a writer for Onward State. He specializes in football, basketball, and the New York Knicks.

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