NEW YORK — There were five straight wins, a trophy, the cutting down of nets and joy and tears mixed on the court in Madison Square Garden. Penn State men’s basketball won the 2018 National Invitation Tournament championship with an 82-66 decision over Utah Thursday night. The 11,175 attendance, a majority Penn State fans dressed for a “White Out,” was the highest for the NIT championship game since the 2005 championship matchup between St. Joseph’s and South Carolina.
Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens was voted the tournament’s most outstanding player, scoring 96 points over five games, including a game-best 28 in the final. Sophomore guard Tony Carr joined him on the all-tournament team as the 2017-18 Nittany Lion squad racked up 26 wins, the second-most in program history.
Senior guard Shep Garner and graduate fifth-year senior Julian Moore accepted the team trophy with Coach Patrick Chambers after Penn State claimed the championship with 55.2 percent shooting from the field for the game and a combined 17-27 (62.9 percent) in the second and third quarters. The 55.2 field goal percentage ranks the second-highest in the Nittany Lions’ 36 NIT games.
“What an incredible year, you know, 26 wins and to finish on such a high note for this team and staff and program, credit goes to these guys,” said Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers. “There's so much love in our locker room and within the program in general, and that's why you're able to rebound from not hearing your name on Selection Sunday and the guys came out and competed for the last few weeks. I think we've proven to a lot of people across the country that Penn State basketball is here to stay. It's not just a stepping stone, it's a destination.”
The Nittany Lions worked for their advantage, outrebounding the Utes 34-27, tying their season-high with 22 assists on 32 baskets and getting 34 points in the paint. Carr contributed nearly two-thirds of Penn State’s assists total by tying his career high with 14. He had 15 points on the night and nine rebounds.
Stevens hit two jumpers in the first minute of the third quarter, but Utah’s Justin Bibbins hit a 3-pointer and the Utes added layups from Johnson and Bibbins for a slim 43-41 Penn State lead at the 7:12 mark.
A steal and score by junior guard Josh Reaves, followed by a stretch of Utah missed shots and turnovers helped the Nittany Lions go on a run with a trey by Garner and four more points by Stevens put Penn State back up by double figures. The final minute of the third witnessed the Nittany Lions extend their lead to 15, 63-48, on two field goals by Julian Moore, both from Carr passes.
Penn State held a 39-34 lead at the half after leading by as many as 10, 37-27, with 2:50 left in the second quarter. A block by Utah’s Donnie Tillman and a layup by Jayce Johnson and Sedrick Barefield’s triple for his 14th point of the half trimmed the deficit to five. The Utes were shooting 41.9 field percent at the break and had only turned the ball over twice to keep it close.
Reaves had a dunk with one second left in the first quarter to give Penn State a 21-20 lead. Harrar had five rebounds in the quarter and matched his career-high with four points just four minutes into the game.
Stevens became the second Penn State men’s basketball sophomore to achieve the 1,000 career point milestone with his layup at the 3:09 mark of the first quarter. Teammate Carr had his 1,000th career point during the Nebraska game on Feb. 25.
During the Utah game, for only the second time in Nittany Lion basketball history, three 1,000-point scorers were on the floor at the same time. The last time was in 2001 with Gyasi Cline-Heard, Joe Crispin and Titus Ivory.
Barefield led the Utes in scoring with 22 points with Bibbins adding 15 and Tyler Rawson 11. Tillman finished his night with six rebounds for Utah’s team high.
As part of the 2018 NIT, experimental rules were in place which included utilizing a wider lane, the international three-point line, and four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves.
A gallery of images from the game can be accessed at http://www.gopsusports.com/view.gal?id=213335.