Penn State coach Pat Chambers would take NIT title over first-round NCAA loss

NIT Mississippi St Penn St Basketball
Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball head coach Pat Chambers.

NEW YORK — Moments after his team’s 75-60 NIT semifinal win over Mississippi State, Penn State coach Pat Chambers was asked the age-old hypothetical question about competing in the NIT.

Chambers, the former Villanova assistant coach and graduate of Episcopal Academy, was asked what would be better, winning in Thursday’s 7 p.m. NIT final against Utah or making the NCAA tournament and then losing in the first round.

Chambers, whose team improved to 25-13, didn’t hesitate.

“I’ve shared a few stories, talking to Jay Wright and [Michigan coach] John Beilein,” Chambers said. “They have said it, sometimes it’s better winning, continue to win, and get this experience and play in a championship game, because that means we’re winning and there’s success and guys are getting amazing experiences.”

His team has reached the championship game at Madison Square Garden by beating Temple at home and posting road wins at Notre Dame and Marquette before Tuesday’s victory over Mississippi State in New York.

“To be able to play in a championship, Penn State basketball, where we started and now where we are, I think for me right now it’s playing in the NIT and trying to cut down some nets, and put a banner up in the BJC [the Bryce Jordan Center] because that’s going to be a huge stepping-stone for us,” Chambers said.

When asked a similar question of an NIT championship vs. an NCAA first-round loss, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was just as enthusiastic about the NIT.

“I would rather be where we are,” Krystkowiak said Wednesday during a conference call. “I thought about it a lot.”

He said that as a team, the key is to keep competing and playing.

“I have been on the other end when you lose in the first round [of the NCAA’s] and it is great, but that is not the feeling you want to have, either,” he said. “There is a lot of failure built into that. This is about experiences and competing and for us to get the additional five games and the opportunity to continue to bond. I love this team and this team loves playing with each other.”

He understands people who feel the opposite way, but…

“You know, if people want to run me out of town for that answer, I guess I’m going to live with it,”  Krystkowiak said. “But they are not in our shoes and this has just been a great experience for us, and I don’t think we’d trade it for anything in the world, to be honest with you.”

Penn State is a team that Philadelphia will recognize with seven players from the area on the roster. The Nittany Lions, who broke Tuesday’s game open with a 24-0 run that began late in the first quarter and extended past the midway portion of the second, received 56 points from Roman Catholic products Lamar Stevens, Shep Garner, and Tony Carr.

Garner played all 40 minutes and scored 18 points, while Carr had a game-high 21 points in 37 minutes. With six three-point field goals, Garner set the school’s career record. He now has 334, passing Pete Lisicky, who had 332 from 1994-98.

Stevens, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, enters Thursday five points shy of 1,000 for his career.

Utah (23-11) beat Western Kentucky, 69-64. Guard Justin Bibbins had 19 points, made all 12 free throws and played all 40 minutes.