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Garner Shines as Penn State Falls Short in B1G Semifinal

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By Jeff Rice, Special to
NEW YORK -- Patrick Chambers said what a lot of his fellow Big Ten coaches have likely been thinking for the past several weeks. 

"I wouldn't want to play us," the Nittany Lion head coach said following their 78-70 loss to Purdue in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden.

An afternoon of cold shooting and a tough stretch early in the second half put Penn State in too deep of a hole to climb out of, but for much of the game, the Nittany Lions went toe-to-physical-toe with one of the league's top teams and showed, as they have for much of 2018, they're capable of playing at an NCAA Tournament level.

Weathering some uncharacteristic misses on good looks from Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens early in the first half, the Nittany Lions used a 15-3 run to take a 28-21 lead with three and a half minutes before halftime. Fifteen of those points came from senior guard Shep Garner, who finished with a career-high 33 points and seemed to have the legs his teammates couldn't find after three games in three days.

Penn State shot just 34 percent from the field but stayed in the game by controlling the boards against the taller Boilermakers, grabbing 36 rebounds to Purdue's 32, including 16 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points.

The Nittany Lions also turned the ball over just eight times and got it done at the free-throw line, pouring in 22 of 27 attempts there, but Purdue's red-hot shooting in the second half never allowed them to mount a significant run. The Boilermakers connected on 15 of their 25 field-goal attempts in the second half, including seven of their 10 3-point tries. Carsen Edwards led a senior-laden Purdue team. Edwards totaled 27 points, hitting 6-of-9 threes. The Boilermakers advance to the tournament title game Sunday for the second time in three years.

"Give Purdue credit. That's a great team," Chambers said. "They have so many weapons. And obviously Carsen Edwards took over in the second half there." 

Garner took over the final three minutes, scoring his team's final 10 points, including a pair of deep 3-pointers, as Penn State slashed a 15-point deficit to eight. The senior from Chester, who was playing in his ninth Big Ten Tournament game, the most ever by a Nittany Lion, finished with the second-highest point total by any player in a Big Ten Tournament game and the highest in the 2018 tournament.

"I gave it everything I had out there," Garner said. "I left it all out there on the court. And I was filled with emotion because I didn't want to lose. Our whole team felt the same way. It was just a tough night for us."

The Nittany Lions will now have to wait a week to see if they earn a berth in their first NCAA Tournament since 2011. Their body of work includes 21 wins overall and 11 against Big Ten opponents. As they proved again Saturday, there isn't a team in the league they can't play with. 

"Nobody's going to want to see us in the NCAA Tournament," Chambers said. "We have NCAA Tournament talent. And I think the administration's going to see that."

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