By Jeff Rice, Special to GoPSUSports.com
NEW YORK -- With two of Penn State's all-time great sharpshooters -- Joe Crispin and Talor Battle -- watching from the Madison Square Garden stands, Shep Garner poured in four more 3-pointers on Thursday night, bringing his season total to 92, tying Battle for the fourth-most made threes in a season in team history.
But it was a key defensive play by the senior guard from Chester, Pennsylvania, that might have had even more impact in the Nittany Lions' 65-57 win over Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Garner drew a charge from the Wildcats' Scottie Lindsey with 3:15 left, fouling out one of Northwestern's top offensive options and providing a big boost of momentum during what was a decisive 15-5 run for Penn State, as junior guard Josh Reaves connected on a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
"He put his body on the line for his teammates, which is critical," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of Garner. "That's what seniors do. That's what leaders do. But that also shows you where this program is headed. We're willing to make those winning plays."
It was one of many examples of players stepping up in ways other than the scoring column. True freshman John Harrar made his first career start in relief of an injured Mike Watkins, while senior big Julian Moore was solid off the bench, blocking three shots in 24 minutes of action.
Reaves provided his usual defensive spark, with a steal and some strong defensive on Northwestern guards Bryant McIntosh (7 points on 3-of-12 shooting) and Lindsey (12 points on 4-of-13 shooting), and freshman guard Jamari Wheeler also gave the Nittany Lions, who held Northwestern to 33 percent from the field in the second half, some defensive juice off the bench.
"We buckled down on the defensive end," said Garner. "Defending and rebounding is our staple. And that's what we did at that stretch of the game."
Sophomore guard Tony Carr was once again the offensive star for Penn State, pouring in 25 points -- just one shy of the program single-game record in the tournament -- but he got his teammates involved down the stretch and had only one turnover. The Nittany Lions had only five giveaways on the night.
"I thought we did a really nice job sharing the ball, but more importantly, we didn't turn it over," Chambers said.
For the better part of the third straight game, Penn State handled the absence of Watkins. For the final few minutes of the first half, it also had to handle the absence of starting forward Lamar Stevens, who took a Lindsey elbow to the face and had to receive medical attention for an open cut on his lip. Penn State was down 25-19 when Stevens came out but went into the halftime tied for the first time this season, at 30-30, thanks to a one-handed lay-in by Reaves in the final minute.
As they've done since Watkins went out of the game early in the first half against Michigan, the Nittany Lions used different lineup combinations and more than a little grit to keep going. They'll now look to continue their tournament run against an Ohio State team they beat twice during the regular season."We definitely love playing here," Carr said. "Madison Square Garden is a great gym. It's every child's dream to play here. We just want to keep it going."