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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Headed To NIT Final Four With 85-80 Win Over Marquette

by on March 20, 2018 9:30 PM

Penn State basketball is headed to the NIT Semifinals in Madison Square Garden following a 85-80 win over Marquette on Tuesday night that showcased the Nittany Lions at their best for a second straight road win.

It was Lamar Stevens powering his way in the paint for an effective 30 points as Shep Garner and Tony Carr poured in 19 and 25 points respectively. The victory marked Penn State's 24th of the season, third best in program history.

And while fans might still be licking their wounds following a season that likely should have ended in the NCAA Tournament if not for some poorly timed injuries and losses, Tuesday was another example of how far the program has come, and how good this team still is.

It started with Stevens who scored a five quick points in the early going. The Nittany Lions would shoot 64-percent in the first half against one of the nation's best three-point shooting teams in its own right. A 25-22 first quarter lead for Penn State was the result of punches and counter punches. After a rock fight of a game not long ago against Temple, Penn State rewarded fans with an offensive explosion and otherwise entertaining basketball.

By the half that lead had grown to a 42-33 margin as Carr, Stevens and Garner shared the wealth and the hot hand around the court. The Nittany Lions looked the part, and Penn State's offense looked like it was never going to stop.

But it did, perhaps because basketball required a white hot shooting percentage to cool off a bit, and Marquette made the most of it. A 16-8 run late in the third quarter and into the fourth cut Penn State's margin to just four points with 3:19 to go.

It looked, although it had not happened yet, that Penn State was going to see a once 14-point lead on the road turn into a defeat. A Marquette run seemed to swing the game, the Nittany Lions were missing everything, and were playing without Mike Watkins. Watkins' absence had been mitigated for the entire NIT, but in a critical moment, his elite defense was required and yet unavailable. 

That was when Josh Reaves appeared, saddled with fouls much of the game, without a point to his name. He calmly hoisted a three in front of his own bench and it splashed home. Suddenly a four point lead was seven and suddenly the inevitable looked avoidable.

A final Marquette rally not long after would be pushed aside by the man of the night as Lamar Stevens put on a show with six straight points, including back to back lobs from Reaves. The Nittany Lions would make free throws to close out the game the rest of the way. A game that would have so easily been lost in years past was deftly handled by a team shorthanded in its own right and without the depth and experience that had gotten it so far. Something not to be lost in the shuffle.

In turn the Nittany Lions will continue their postseason on to New York and Madison Square Garden. In a March that has been full of upsets, Penn State will probably always wonder may have been had it earned a spot into the field of 64.

Nobody will ever know the answer, but what is clear, they might be at the wrong party, but the Nittany Lions are dancing as well as anyone right now.

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