Penn State advances to the NIT semifinals

Penn St Purdue Basketball
File photo: Penn State guard Shep Garner had 19 points in Tuesday’s win over Marquette in the NIT quarterfinals.

MILWAUKEE — In the final minutes of the game, Roman Catholic High graduate Lamar Stevens slammed back-to-back alley-oop lobs to secure Penn State an 85-80 victory over Marquette University in the quarterfinals of the NIT on Tuesday night.

The baskets came right after a late-game Marquette surge that saw Penn State’s double-digit lead dwindle to just four.

Along with fellow Roman graduates Tony Carr and Shep Garner, Stevens helped lead Penn State a spot in the semifinals next week in New York.

The Nittany Lions will play Tuesday (March 27) at Madison Square Garden against Mississippi State.

“We had good practice; we were prepared for this,” Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers said. “And then we relied on our foundation: defense and rebounding. When all else fails, we know we can get stops, we know we can get rebounds … just keep playing Penn State basketball.”

[Box score]

Stevens and Carr slashed to the rim with ease all night, exploiting Marquette’s cushy interior defense. Stevens dominated throughout, finishing with 30 points, tied for his season high against Northwestern on Jan. 3 as he shot 14 for 22 from the field.

Carr, who averaged a team-high 19.5 points per game this season, routinely bullied Marquette’s bite-sized backcourt with his post-up game and hit a series of clutch free throws to ice the game. Carr finished with 25 points, seven assists, and six rebounds.

Garner went went tit-for-tat with Marquette’s lineup of vaunted three-point shooters. The senior guard drained a pair of triples in the opening frame and finished with 19 points, shooting 5 for 8 from deep and 7 for 11 overall.

“We just wanted to take what the defense gave us,” Chambers said. “We didn’t want to stagnate, and we didn’t want to settle. Sometimes we settle for threes. I felt like if we could move them a little bit, drive them a little bit, we’d have great opportunities for either [threes or layups]. These guys did a great job not settling.”

The Nittany Lions got to the free throw line 21 times, drawing 22 fouls in the game. Penn State also scored 40 points in the paint.

By halftime, Penn State was up, 41-34. The Lions’ lead opened up in the second half, as they remained ahead by double digits through much of the third quarter.

But Penn State saw a lead that had grown to as much as 14 dwindle to just four points with under three minutes to go in the game.

The Lions now get Mississippi State, which drilled host Louisville, 79-56. Junior Quinndary Weatherspoon had 19 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (25-11). Weatherspoon hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer on Sunday to beat Baylor in the second round.

“We’re climbing, guys,” Chambers said. “We’re climbing.”