by Dan Gardella
New York – A month ago, the Penn. State Nittany Lions entered the World’s Most Famous Arena as the seventh seed in the Big Ten Tournament with hopes of making a shocking run deep into the tournament which would hopefully result in an NCAA Tournament bid.
Only one of those things happened.
Penn State made a run into the Big Ten Tournament semifinals by defeating Northwestern and Ohio State before falling to Purdue in the semifinals. They were left outside of the top 68 teams and received the silver medal in postseason tournaments: The NIT.
The Nittany Lions took the opportunity and ran with it defeating Temple at home before taking down top seeded Notre Dame and second seed Marquette, both on the road to make the trip to Manhattan for the second time this season. This time, the implications were as high as ever.
Standing between Penn State and a trip to the NIT Championship was the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team that also finished seventh in their respective conference: The SEC. The Bulldogs’ path to New York was similar to Penn State’s. They defeated Nebraska at home before upsetting top seeded Baylor and Louisville both on the road to reach the semifinals.
The game started off with both teams exchanging punches in the opening minutes. With the score tied at 9 with 6:11 remaining in the first quarter, the Nittany Lions would manage to go on a 28-2 run over the next ten minutes to blow open the lead to 26 at 37-11 with 5:54 left to play in the first half.
“We really came out and got off to a horrible start” said Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland. “We were really impatient. Once we started falling behind, we got anxious and we were shooting quick, bad shots and it just like snowballed”.
Penn State would continue to cruise and headed into the locker room holding a comfortable 42-23 lead at halftime.
Out of the halftime break it remained all Nittany Lions as the lead would get up to as much as 27 as a Shep Garner three-pointer would give Penn State a 52-25 lead with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter. In the game, Garner became the all-time leading three-point shooter in Penn State history with 335 career three-pointers. Garner however, would not accept the record as an individual achievement.
“They say the record is an individual record, but I’ve had a lot teammates that had a lot to do with that record: A lot of people that set screens for me to get me open, break passes to them, they put it right on the button for me and I just finish the job.” said Garner.
The Nittany Lions would not let the lead get below 19 following the colossal run in the first half to put themselves in the championship game Thursday night.
“Really proud of my team. We came out, we competed hard. I thought the defensive end really set the tone for us offensively. We got stops. For the most part we got rebounds, we were able to push it.” Said Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers.
On the other side, Mississippi State finishes their season Tuesday night. With their season finished, they are looking forward to what’s to come in the future.
“This will be a growing experience that will help this team as we return a lot of these kids for next year, and I think they are excited. I think they really like each other and love each other and play for one another.” said Howland.
Mississippi State finishes their season 25-12.
Penn State (23-13) face off against Utah on Thursday night at 7. The Utes snuck past Western Kentucky 69-64 in the first semifinal match-up.