Record-setting Shep Garner leads Penn State to NIT final

NIT Mississippi St Penn St Basketball
Penn State guard Shep Garner (33) drives against Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon during tthe first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the semifinals of the NIT, Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

NEW YORK – It was a record-setting night for senior Shep Garner and an even better one for his Penn State basketball team.

Garner, the Chester resident and former Roman Catholic star, set Penn State’s career record for three-point field goals, but that was secondary to the fact that he extended his college career one more game.

With Garner shooting 6 of 9 from three-point range for 18 points and fellow former Roman Catholic standout Tony Carr adding 21, Penn State beat Mississippi State, 75-60,  Tuesday night in a National Invitation Tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden. The game wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated.

“We were little disappointed not to make the (NCAA) tournament but we made another goal and saw we were in the NIT and our goal was to get to New York and win it,” Garner said. “That is what everybody wants to do and we put ourselves in a good position to do so.”

As for his three-point record, he deflected the praise.

“They say it is an individual record but I had a lot of teammates that had a lot to do with that record, a lot of people set screens for me to get open, great passes like from Tony (Carr) who put it right on the button for me and I just finished the job,” Garner said.

[Box score]

Penn State (25-13) will face Utah (23-11) for the championship on Thursday. The Nittany Lions, who won the 2009 NIT championship, have also beaten Temple, Notre Dame and Marquette in this year’s tournament.

With Penn State leading, 13-11, late in the first quarter (the NIT plays quarters instead of two halves), the Nittany Lions went on a 24-0 run, including the first 19 points of the second quarter to take a 37-11 lead. Naturally, it was Garner who began the run with a three-pointer.

Mississippi State (25-12) never recovered.

The NIT has several experimental rules and one of them is an expanded three-point line to the distance used by  international competition  of 22 feet, 1.75 inches. That is one foot, eight inches longer than the college line.

It didn’t matter to Penn State. During the first half, the Nittany Lions shot 8 for 13 from beyond the arc and they finished 11 for 20 for the game.

Penn State has seven players from the Philadelphia area, plus coach Pat Chambers, a former Villanova assistant and Episcopal Academy graduate.

Four of the players, Garner, Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick, played for Roman Catholic. Stevens would add 17 points and eight rebounds.

Leading the way in the first half was Carr, the 6-foot-5 sophomore, who entered the game averaging 19.6 points, second in the Big Ten. Carr had 14 first-half points while Garner added 12, hitting 4 of 6 three-pointers.

With the four first-half three-pointers, Garner tied the career school record of 332 set by Pete Lisicky from 1994-98.

[From the archives: Shep Garner and his famously hilarious cousin]

Garner then set the record on a three with 8 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third quarter, which extended the Nittany Lions lead to 47-23.

Penn State was without forward Mike Watkins, a 6-9 redshirt sophomore from Philadelphia and a graduate from the Phelps School. Watkins suffered a season-ending injury right knee injury on Feb. 21. He is second nationally in field-goal percentage at 68.5 percent.

In the first game, senior guard Justin Bibbins scored 19 points while hitting all 12 of his free throws as Utah defeated Western Kentucky, 69-64. Backcourt mate Sedrick Barefield added 14 for Utah. Western Kentucky (27-11) was led by 6-7 senior Justin Johnson who scored 24 points.