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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Blow Past Mississippi State 75-60 In NIT Semifinals

by on March 28, 2018 12:00 AM

NEW YORK, NY. Josh Reaves threw his body on the court for a loose ball like he had so many times before, slapping it ahead with an outstretched hand to Tony Carr who in turn slid to the ground.

Sitting on the court Carr looked for an outlet.

He found it, Lamar Stevens standing not far away.

Then it was Stevens to Shep Garner who was camped out alone in front of his own bench. With history in his hands, he paused, rose and fired.

A splash. Much like Penn State's 75-60 win over Mississippi State, sending the Nittany Lions to the NIT Finals.

With that shot Garner stood alone with 333 made three-point shots in his career, the most in Penn State history. The play that made it happen, a moment that displayed what the program wants to be and where it had come from. A time when effort was the best way to close the talent gap.

So it was fitting that Garner's historic moment was defined by the basics of the program he has helped build. A moment as much about effort as it was skill. What it once was and what it has become.

That was Penn State basketball for so long: trying, trying, trying. Trying hard, to make up for everything else

But on Tuesday -and for much of the season- that talent gap has been erased while the effort has stayed the same. The result, a dangerous combination, something a lot of teams have found out the hard way. Something Mississippi State found out quickly on Tuesday.

Penn State walked into Madison Square Garden as a team that has played as good as any during a chaotic March. NBA scouts fill seats where air once did at the Bryce Jordan Center, optimism fills a void where fan's vague hope for something better once lived.

To be certain, Penn State's season has not been perfect, and one wonders what may have been if the Nittany Lions had gone to the even bigger dance.

Those thoughts are largely in the past now, Penn State sits a win away from an NIT title and the second most wins in a single-season ever for the program. As the Nittany Lions went on a 21-0 run in the early stages of the second quarter, a game that could have been turned into an exhibition that was and a showcase on basketball's most hallowed ground of how the game ought to be played.

A 42-23 halftime score was all anyone needed to know. All anyone needed to see. 21 points by Tony Carr, 17 by Lamar Stevens, 18 points by Shep Garner on 6-of-10 shooting, all six makes from beyond the arc.

By the end of the night a date with history had been set, a Thursday night showdown with Utah in Madison Square Garden for the NIT Title. Maybe a small drop in college basketball's large pool, but a meaningful moment nevertheless.

A win, and the return of Tony Carr could mark a Penn State team teasing with the idea of starting the season ranked, perhaps even a dark-horse for a Big Ten run.

But of course seeing is believing.

Then again on Tuesday night, it was crystal clear.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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