Penn State wins NIT championship behind scoring burst

NIT Championship Penn St Utah Basketball
Penn State guard Josh Reaves (23) shoots next to Utah forward Jayce Johnson (34) in the first quarter of an NCAA college basketball game for the NIT championship Thursday, March 29, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

NEW YORK – For the second straight game Penn State used a huge scoring spurt to earn its second ever NIT title. Leading 43-41, the Nittany Lions closed out the third quarter on a 20-7 run and weren’t threatened in the fourth quarter during Thursday’s 82-66 NIT win over Utah at Madison Square Garden.

In Tuesday’s 75-60 semifinal win over Mississippi State, Penn State went on a 24-0 run that began in the first quarter and went midway through the second.

With seven players from the Philadelphia area and a number making key contributions Penn State (26-13) finished one win shy of tying the school record of 27 set by the 2009 NIT championship team.

Penn State’s Lamar Stevens, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Roman Catholic, scored 28 points and now has 1,023 for his career. He shot 11 for 15 from the field and 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Stevens was named the NIT’s most outstanding player.

As for getting his 1,000th career point in Madison Square Garden, Stevens said, “It was a great feeling, but it was better winning the championship, though honestly. It was a great accolade but I would much rather have the championship any day.”

Stevens’ former Roman Catholic teammate, 6-5 sophomore guard Tony Carr, had 15 points, 14 assists (just one turnover) and nine rebounds and was named a member of the NIT all-tournament team. After the game, the crowd was chanting to Carr, “one more year, one more year.” Carr has to decide whether to declare for the NBA draft.

“I will talk to my coaching staff, talk to my family and will make the best decision for me going forward,” Carr said.

Penn State also received 18 points from guard Josh Reaves. John Harrar, a 6-9 freshman from Strath Haven, added seven points and 12 rebounds.

Penn State even survived a quiet game from senior guard Shep Garner of Roman Catholic, the school’s all-time three-point field goal leader. Garner had eight points and attempted just six shots.

Utah (23-12) was led by guard Sedrick Barefield who scored 22 points.

The mostly pro-Penn State crowd of 11,175 was the largest in the NIT championship since 2005 and it had an impact on the game.

“They got a lot of those 50/50 balls and scored off of them (in the third quarter) and you can’t do that when you’re basically playing an away game because the fans get going,” said Utah guard Justin Bibbins, who scored 15 points.

While disappointed when they weren’t invited to the NCAA’s, the Nittany Lions rebounded to earn this championship, that began with a hard-fought 63-57 win over Temple.

“I think it is a springboard for us, to win 26 games, to cut down some nets that means winning, you are finding success,” said Penn State coach Pat Chambers, yet another local product and graduate of Episcopal Academy and former Villanova assistant. “…We have created a lot of excitement…”

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