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Connecting for a Cause

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers arrived on campus in early June 2011, one of the first Nittany Lions he sought out to meet was Talor Battle.

Battle and Chambers met for the first time nearly seven years ago, shortly after one of the most prolific Nittany Lions in program history closed out his collegiate career.

"To have a great relationship with your all-time leading scorer and one of your best players to ever come out of Penn State is really important," Chambers said on a sunny Friday afternoon in between rounds of golf at the annual Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournament. "It was important for me when I took the job."

In the span of time, the relationship between Chambers and the Nittany Lion who helped Penn State to its first NIT title in 2009 and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011, has only grown, even strengthening in the past two years. 

After playing professionally overseas in a handful of different countries, Battle announced his retirement in late February leaving his current team, Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia. 

"It was really just a lot injuries," Battle said. "The past two years I have kind of been banged up, from shoulder surgery to tearing my calf muscle."

Not one of the injuries along the way stopped Battle from following along with the program, one he described as high-octane and exciting to watch under Chambers' direction, adding with a smile that he "wouldn't mind playing run-and-gun in that offense."

Battle even recalled saying he saw NBA potential in a then-freshman Tony Carr upon watching the future All-Big Ten Nittany Lion.

"I still believe that," Battle said. "I think with these workouts, with his size, the things he can do with playing in the post, he has an NBA body so I hope someone really takes a chance on him."

Since announcing his retirement though, Battle has been in constant contact with Chambers, talking everything and anything, even related to what's next for the retired pro.

"It's mostly been about coaching because I'm kind of looking to get into that," Battle said. "He has just been giving me the pros and the cons, shooting me straight and that's really all I can ask for." 

Since their first meeting back in 2011, staying in touch is something Chambers knew he wanted to continue, even well beyond his budding relationship with Battle. 

"We want to make sure that we reach out to these guys and they know our door is always open for you," Chambers said. "Wherever you are in your career, if you're still playing, not playing, searching for a job, going into the real world, know that we're going to be there for you." 

For Chambers, having Battle back with the program in some capacity is certainly a possibility, especially when it comes to the challenge of connecting an alumni base that didn't play for the current head coach with the more current graduates.

In his first time able to attend the annual summer event, it's a special experience for Battle to return those relationships and build some new ones in the process.

"Seeing some of the guys I played with and some of the guys before me all coming back for something so big is great," Battle said.

When Chambers brought on former Nittany Lion Jarrett Stephens in late December 2017, he added alumni relations to the list of responsibilities for Penn State's first consensus first team All-Big Ten selection.

"The biggest thing is you really want them to come back," Chambers said. "I didn't coach them so that's the hardest thing, because sometimes you don't feel like you have a connection and we wanted to really dive in and say, 'no, you do.' It's Penn State. You chose here because of Penn State, the University, the academics, the networking, the alumni association and your memories that you had here."

More than the significance of decades of Penn State hoops alumni gathered to reconnect with each other and the community though, is the cause behind the yearlong event, one that's especially close to the team.

Upon receiving a bladder cancer diagnosis a few years ago, Chambers presented longtime Penn State equipment manager Mitch Stover with a blue elastic wristband with the word "Attitude" on it.

"This bracelet right here," Stover said raising his arm in the air. "It's from coach Chambers and that was what I accepted and took on, attitude. My wife dealt with all the other issues and I was told just to concentrate on healing and getting well."

Three years ago, instead of participating in the golf tournament with the rest of the staff and former Nittany Lions he'd worked with along the way, Stover was in the hospital.

"It's because of the Bestwick Foundation and CVC that I'm able to be back here and be part of this event," Stover said. "It's really a privilege and I'm honored." 

After conquering bladder cancer, Stover retired March 31, 2018 after nearly 30 years with the team.

Carr Pursuing his NBA Dreams

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Inside of a packed media room at the Bryce Jordan Center Monday afternoon Penn State sophomore Tony Carr declared his intent to enter the NBA Draft.

Seated at the podium with his mother Nicole, father, Tony Sr. and Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, Carr looked out on the crowded room to the familiar faces of his teammates.

"To be able to say something like that in front of my teammates, in front of the media, in front of my family, it's just a great feeling to be able to put in the hard work that's going to take me to chasing my dreams," Carr said. "I feel great right now."

For Carr, the opportunity to begin chasing his dreams became a tangible reality throughout the season. As information came in, Chambers relayed those messages to Carr, who thanked his head coach but opted to remain present.

Carr was laser focused on the task at hand and staying present ever since the offseason, where he transformed his body to put himself in prime position for what was to come.

"He worked so hard in the offseason," Chamber said moments after cutting down the nets in celebration of Penn State's first NIT title since 2009. "He put on 25 pounds and he needed to begin to trust and he started to trust. He started to believe and he trusted his teammates. You can see his assists have skyrocketed. He really shared the ball. You go back to the Ohio State game in the Garden on that Friday night where you know he wants to take the shot, I want him to take the shot but doesn't take the shot and that's a kid who has grown. We talk about growth mindset. We talk about growing and emerging leadership, and I think Tony embodies all of that."

Mindset is exactly what changed when you ask Carr where his journey saw its turning point.

"I felt like from the first game of the season, I took my game to a higher level and I just wanted to continue to show that through all 39 games and I feel like I did a good job of that and it has me in the position where I am today," Carr said.

The 2017-18 season certainly saw its fair share of ups and downs, but with each instance of adversity, Carr was present to lead the response, often with some of his best performances of the season.

Perhaps one of his best coming on the road at then-No. 13 Ohio State, in a display that no Penn State Tony Carr story will likely ever be without.

In the final seconds, Carr launched a 3-pointer to lift the Nittany Lions to an 82-79 victory, marking a win against Penn State's highest-ranked opponent on the road since 2009. 

The All-Big Ten first team selection registered four 30-point games during the season, one also coming in the second meeting against the Buckeyes. He led the team with 30 points as the Nittany Lions defeated then-No. 8/9 Ohio State. 

As Chambers noted though, from the electric road win in Columbus on through the NIT title game, Penn State was played perhaps its best basketball in a long time.

With the season complete though, Carr could weigh his options.

"Once I heard the feedback from the scouts and from coach, this decision was pretty much a no-brainer for me," Carr said. "Just to be able to chase my dream, to be able to leave a legacy here like I did at Penn State. We just won an NIT championship so for everything to fall into place at the right time was great for me."

As much of a no-brainer as the scenario was, the decision didn't come easy. Surrounded by his teammates, coaches and family though, there's nothing but love for the Nittany Lion who came in and set the standard for those to come.

"When you make a tough decision like this you need the support of the ones close to you and I feel like the ones close to me have been giving me great support throughout my 20 years of life," Carr said. "For all of them to be there to support me on this big day just felt great."

Nittany Lions Climb to NIT Crown

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NEW YORK -  Huddled up during Penn State's first NIT team practice, Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers said one thing to his team - New York.

In moments when his team looked worn down or lacked focus, he'd bring the team in once again and return to the same message - New York.

In front of the largest NIT Championship game crowd inside Madison Square Garden since 2005, nearly 12,000 fans saw Penn State capture its second NIT title and its first since 2009.

As the chaotic scene on the court calmed, Chambers ascended the bright blue ladder and carefully snipped the second-to-last piece of a dangling net hanging loosely from the hoop, and with a clenched fist, raised his arm high into the air. 

Next up the ladder was senior Shep Garner, who freed the remainder of the net to roars from crowd chanting "thank you Shep" over and over as he hoisted it high into the air.

Climb complete. 

"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 steppingstone, it's a destination," Chambers said to a room full of media members tucked inside a media room centered within the maze of the MSG underbelly.

While the final score illuminated on the video screen read 82-66, Penn State's final climb of the 2018 season wasn't easy. The Nittany Lions were slow to start, with Utah firing up early from 3-point range.

Trailing 20-14 in the first quarter, the Utes were shooting 57 percent from behind the arc, at 4-for-7 with three treys from Sedrick Barefield.

It was a prime opportunity for Penn State to deliver its signature knock-out punch. Just 17 seconds later, Lamar Stevens drained a 3-pointer before denying Utah on the other end. Josh Reaves quickly finished with a bucket to pull Penn State within one, 20-19. The Nittany Lions weren't done, using a 7-0 run capped off by yet another Reaves slam with a second left on the clock, closing out the first quarter on top, 21-20. 

Stevens' triple was his first of four, as the sophomore finished 4-for-5 from 3-point range with a team-high 28 points earning NIT Most Outstanding Player honors. 

When asked about his performance from the 3-point line though, Stevens made reference to "Space Jam" of course.

"Tone [Tony Carr] gave me his special stuff before the game and I think I was able to really translate that to game and I had open shots and I was able to knock them down. It's just a joke," Stevens said with a laugh. "He can really shoot and he was like, I'm going to give you my stuff before the game and I guess it worked."

Before the end of the first quarter Stevens joined Carr as just the second sophomore in program history to reach the 1,000 career points plateau.

"It means the world to me," Stevens said when reflecting on the milestone. "A lot of people said that the success we had in high school wouldn't translate to college. We worked really hard to prove everybody wrong. Being able to win a championship after high school, it's hard to do. Being able to do this in college, it's amazing." 

Perhaps it wasn't really any secret stuff from Carr and instead, confidence. 

"I have the utmost confidence in Lamar to shoot those shots," Carr said. "He put in so much work this offseason. He got some good looks and thankfully they fell and it led us to the win."

It's confidence too that willed freshman John Harrar to a career performance with seven points and 12 rebounds, grabbing 10 boards in the first half alone. 

"I think just the amount of confidence I had going into tonight's game was way more than I ever had," Harrar said. "I felt like I was back in high school. The timing of the game was slowing down a lot for me."

With Mike Watkins out with an injury, Harrar knew he had some big shoes to fill, but he was ready.

"With the managers, I try to work out so I'm prepared for the moment," Harrar said. "Early in the year, they are saying stay ready, stay ready and I did my best staying ready for this moment and for the Big Ten Tournament and that run we made there too." 

When asked to sum up the year though, he and teammate Josh Reaves had the same reply.

Crazy.

"That sums it up. I'm just grateful, happy," Reaves said. "I feel so blessed to be given the opportunity to come here. I always said it when I was getting recruited, I want to be on the team that changes everything. I feel like we've done that. It just feels so surreal."

The team that changes everything doesn't happen without Garner, the heart and soul of a Nittany Lion team that closed out the year with its second-highest wins total in program history at 26-13 overall.

For Garner, it all started with belief.

"I believed in coach," Garner said. "I believed in what he was building here and I knew that at the end it would be all worth it. As you can see, all the lumps that we took early in my career, it's all worth it because we won a championship at the end and that's what everyone wants to do." 

Garner's last climb as a Nittany Lion was up the ladder to collect the last tangible piece of Penn State's commanding NIT run. With every step, memories flooded his mind. From the first time he arrived in Happy Valley to every up and down along the way. 

"It all makes sense now," Garner said. "We did something special. This is a special group and I'll never forget what we did." 

It's the whole though that's greater than the sum of its parts and as Penn State prepares to turn the page, there's perhaps never a better time to join the climb.

"I think it's a springboard for us, to win 26 games, to cut down some nets, that means winning," Chambers said. "You're winning, you're finding success and that helps everything out. That helps ticket sales. That helps recruiting. We have created a lot of excitement but it's definitely a validation of how hard the staff has worked and the risk and the trailblazing that a lot of these players took to say yes to us."

Pregame Reading: Penn State Set for NIT Title Game

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NEW YORK - Penn State's final climb of the season has arrived, as the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions will meet No. 2 seed Utah in the NIT title game Thursday evening at Madison Garden. 

Fresh off a 75-60 win against Mississippi State in Tuesday's NIT semifinals, it's been all about mental and physical rest as Penn State prepares to play for the NIT Championship for the first time since 2009.

Less than a mile from the team hotel, Penn State hosted its Wednesday practice at the New York Athletic Club.

"It's just to get them moving, get the blood flowing, get a sweat, get some shots up, get some free throws and work on some of the 50 sets that Utah has, so we just wanted to keep our foundation," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said moments after stepping off the court Tuesday. "Keep these guys dialed in on the task at hand."

The task at hand won't be easy, as Chambers noted Tuesday night there wasn't much time to be celebrating with the Nittany Lions having their work cut out for them when it comes to Utah.

Utah's path to the title game started with wins against UC Davis and LSU before upsetting No. 1 seed Saint Mary's in overtime to earn a spot in the semifinals. It was a come-from-behind victory against Western Kentucky Tuesday that saw Utah lock up its third appearance in the NIT championship game and its first since 1974.

History aside though, the Utes are led by a veteran group of seniors all eager to close out their season on top. Utah has four individuals averaging at least 10 points per game. Three of the four are seniors, led by leading scorer Justin Bibbins who's currently averaging 15.8 points per game.

"They are a really good team," Chambers said. "They shoot the ball really well, they've made 12 threes, they've made 14 threes in two prior games so we're really going to have to guard the 3-point line. They are tough, they are physical, they are well coached, they mix up their defenses, so we have to be ready to play Penn State basketball."

Noting bits of Northwestern and Michigan in his earliest assessment of the Utes, Utah enters Thursday's matchup averaging 9. 3 triples per game. In NIT action, Utah knocked down 14 treys in the second round game against LSU before registering 12 against No. 1 seed St. Mary's.

On the other side of things though, Penn State is playing perhaps as carefree and confident as it has all season long.

"It started really after we beat Temple," Chambers said. "I think they got really confident. More confident, playing loose, enjoying themselves out there, having fun. At Notre Dame, Marquette, you could tell they were having a blast, enjoying it."

Penn State fans don't have to look much further than a 24-0 run against Mississippi State for evidence of just what can happen when this team starts having fun.

"I think we're just appreciating our last games together and really just going out, having fun, playing with a clear mind and with a lot of confidence and swagger," sophomore Lamar Stevens said." 

Tip time is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2. 

Garner Highlights NIT Semifinals

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NEW YORK - Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers had his concerns ahead of Tuesday's NIT semifinal matchup at Madison Square Garden. Coming off a full seven-day layoff, there is of course the uncertainty of a challenge really facing every team.  

Ask any Nittany Lion though and there was simply no reason to be concerned. For sophomore Tony Carr, at this point in the season, there's no need for pep talks or motivational moments.

Stepping on to the court at the world's most famous arena, Penn State did so with one goal in mind.

"We were ready," Penn State senior Shep Garner said. "We knew that Mississippi State is a good team, an SEC team, and we didn't want to get caught on our heels. We wanted to bring the fight and we came out on a run." 

Penn State and Mississippi State kept it close in the earliest part of the first quarter, arriving at the evening's first media timeout tied up, 9-9. The Nittany Lions managed to pull away, leading by two, 13-11, with less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter. 

In front of yet another mostly blue and white crowd though, Penn State wouldn't disappoint, taking control with a 24-0 scoring streak lasting 16:32. The Nittany Lions surged ahead by as many as 26 points, unleashing from the perimeter with five triples during the stretch, including three from Garner. 

"When we go on runs like that, we know that we're clicking on all cylinders on the defensive end, that's where it starts," Garner said. "When we play like that and we get in transition, we're tough to beat. We all get running and knock some threes down, that's tough."

Neither Garner nor Carr or Stevens or Reaves had any idea they were on such a streak. It didn't matter though. It didn't matter because it was all about having fun, playing with a level of confidence that Chambers noted has reached its highest level of the season. 

"It started really after we beat Temple," Chambers said. "I think they got really confident. More confident, playing loose, enjoying themselves out there, having fun. At Notre Dame, Marquette, you could tell they were having a blast, enjoying it."

As Penn State departed for the locker room at halftime, the Nittany Lions were commanding a 42-23 lead. It's an advantage though didn't exactly have Chambers letting out a sigh of relief.

"I've had some nightmares throughout my career - high school, college, as a player, and I've had some nightmares, Northwestern, Michigan State," Chambers said. "Those things go through your head, like we're up 20, but we've got to keep it at 20. If it gets any lower then they're going to find momentum and confidence and they are going to regain this. I was really proud of our guys, we got big time stops when we needed it. We made the necessary plays to keep that lead near 20." 

Chambers' message was simple, keep locked in on the Nittany Lion foundation, defending and rebounding.

Penn State wouldn't let its foot off gas pedal, coming out of the locker room with the same fire.

The second half was perhaps more about milestones though, as Garner surpassed Penn State's Pete Lisicky (1995-98) for first all-time on the Nittany Lion career 3-pointers list.

Just a few minutes later, he drained his sixth triple of the night to set the Penn State single game NIT record. His 3-point of course, widening the Nittany Lion advantage to the largest of the night, 52-25. 

Garner joined Carr and sophomore Lamar Stevens in double figures, finishing with 18 points. Carr led the team with 21 points while Stevens had 17, finishing 6-for-10 from the field with a team-high eight rebounds.

"Shep is a great person, he's a great player," Stevens said. "Guys like that deserve to go down in the record books and have successful careers. Shep completely deserves it, he works really hard. I'm happy for him."

For Chambers though, Garner is also a Nittany Lion who took a chance on Penn State.

"He believed in us and his first few years obviously didn't go the way we all wanted it to go," Chambers said. "Man did he stick it out and he persevered and he was able to bring some really good players with him. It's so awesome to see him leave such an amazing legacy for Penn State basketball." 

His legacy, or rather, his storybook ending as he calls it, isn't over just yet.

"The only thing that can make it better is winning a championship and that's what we want to do," Garner said. "That's what we came here to do. We came here to do that, that's our goal and we won't be satisfied until we do that." 

For now, it's rest and recovery for the Nittany Lions, who will turn their focus toward No. 2 seed Utah in Thursday's finals, set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Penn State Set for NIT Semifinals

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers can remember the exact moment senior Shep Garner committed. On the very floor he'd soon take to as a Nittany Lion, Garner's commitment came during a team camp. With Kim Garner's approval of course, it was just one of many defining moments for Chambers and the program.

Returning to Madison Square Garden once again, this time, Garner and the rest of the Nittany Lions will have potentially two more opportunities to do something they personally have never done before.

Garner doesn't give much thought to the fact that at some point next week he'll be playing in his final game.

"I'm so locked in on the game, I can't really focus on it being my last game because I think if you focus on losing you really might lose," Garner said. "I focus on winning." 

He took that mentality from boxer Floyd Mayweather.

"He said he never focused on losing, he always goes into a fight like he's going to figure out a way to win no matter what happens and that's what I've been doing, not even focusing or thinking about losing because that's negative energy we'll need," Garner said.

There's perhaps something special for Garner when it comes to the world's most famous arena though. In four years, Garner has played five games inside Madison Square Garden.

Among those outings, Garner is averaging 20.2 points per game as well as nearly five triples. He has scored no less than 12 points, scoring at least 20 in three of the five games, including his most recent, a record-setting 33 points in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals against No. 3 seed Purdue.

From the aura of the big stage to the lights or the rim, it's something Garner can't exactly describe. 

"It's a beautiful place," Garner said. "A lot of history in the arena so you have to naturally get up to play in Madison Square Garden and that's what I do. I love playing there, obviously. The lighting in there is perfect, you can see the rim, it's a good feel. It's the reason why they call it the Mecca."

The Shep Garner who stepped on the court at Madison Square Garden in the Blue and White for the first time as a sophomore in 2016 for the inaugural Big Ten Hoops-Hockey doubleheader is tremendously different from the one today.

"I just think when you're a senior and you're 22, the light just kind of comes on and you figure things out a little bit," Chambers said. "It wasn't easy for him going from having the ball in his hands for two straight years to not having the ball in his hands, so that took a little bit of an adjustment. We were young and he was trying to do a lot, he was trying to lead, he was trying to score, he was trying to take care of practice, take care of the locker room, that's a lot of responsibility."

Penn State's path through the NIT has had its share of challenges, but with each taste of adversity the Nittany Lions continued to climb. 

Coming off a 63-57 win against Temple in the first round, Garner pulled the team in after practice for a message.

"I thought we came out a little slow and I told the team that we're basketball players, this is what we do," Garner said. "We play basketball, we came here to win games and that's what we're going to do, so let's get ready to do that. It was a little short conversation with everybody just to get us back engaged and get us playing to level that we know."

Garner's message was received. 

"We definitely want to make the most out of the opportunity that we have here," All-Big Ten First Team selection Tony Carr said. "I think this is Shep's first postseason so to just go out with a championship would mean everything to me because I feel like he deserves that. He put in that work."

Come next Tuesday, the Nittany Lions will need everyone to continue rising to meet the challenges the postseason brings. That includes both consistent contributors like leading scorers Carr and Lamar Stevens as well as those who are new to the starting lineup, like true freshman John Harrar. 

Since entering the starting lineup in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, Harrar has only grown more confident and comfortable on the court.

"The more minutes he's getting the better he is playing," Chamber said. "He just had nine rebounds in 22 minutes. His defense is outstanding. His ball screen defense is outstanding."

For Chambers, there's the deflection against Temple which leads to a key turnover to tie the score with less than three minutes left. Then there's his perimeter defense against Marquette - high active hands, locked in on a body and in just the right position.

When asked about his confidence though, Chambers looks at the free throws.

"He's made two against Temple, he's made two against Notre Dame, I think two against Marquette so he's shooting really good free throws," Chambers said. "He also did a fake dribble handoff and went and tried to lay it in himself. That shows you he's starting to feel better out there, more comfortable out there." 

Perhaps the most important thing though, is the confidence teammates.

"I watched Johnny put in tons of hard work before practice, after practice, when there's a game and it's definitely paying off for him right now," Carr said. "He's a big part to our team, he's the anchor of our defense and I'm just happy to see him get that chance and make the most of it."

Harrar earned the confidence of his teammates long before he entered the starting lineup.

Chambers saw it as early as the team's foreign tour to the Bahamas, then returning to peer down through the windows of the offices lining the practice gym to see Harrar hard at work.

"I'd look down from that window right there and he'd be down here working hard, working on his go-to's and counters, his free throws, his midrange," Chambers said.

Upon returning home from road trips during the season, both Carr and Stevens looked inside the practice gym to see something they had never seen before.

"John after a game, if he doesn't play at all for 40 minutes, he'll work out on the climber for 40 minutes," Stevens said. "If he played two minutes, he'll work out for 38 minutes or for the amount of time he didn't play."

For Stevens, Harrar is a whole different animal, for Carr, the sight was simply mind blowing.

"For him to come back here and get on the climber was definitely mind blowing," Carr said. "I think it just speaks to how hard of a worker he is and how much he wanted to have an impact on this team."

Hands down one of the hardest workers on the team, Stevens can recall whispering to his coaches on the sideline - he's going to be ready.

"Some kids might go the other way, might have a bad attitude like, 'oh I'm never going to play, so why am I going to get in the gym,'" Chambers said. "His attitude was I'm going to work so when my name is called or when my numbers is called, I'm going to be ready and he absolutely seized the moment and there's something to be said for that."

Harrar and the rest of the Nittany Lions depart for New York Sunday, now with the focus turned toward their NIT semifinal opponent in fourth-seeded Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs met Nebraska in the first round and knocked off No. 1 seed Baylor in the second round before powering past Louisville to earn their first trip to the NIT semifinals since 2007.

"They have a ton of speed, a ton of athleticism," Chambers said. "In the last five or six games they are averaging 8.4 or 8.5 threes per game so they've added that to their arsenal over the last 10 days to two weeks. They really didn't shoot the ball particularly all year so now they are shooting the ball much better and it's a Ben Howland coached team so you know they are going to be tough on the defensive end. You know they are going to rebound, you know they are really going to challenge you in the paint and they are going to challenge your shots."

With a spot in the finals on the line though, Penn State won't have to spend time searching for motivation.

"To be going back to New York is something that we all really wanted, that was the goal when we were selected to play in the NIT, to get back to New York," Chambers said. "We're fired up. We're looking forward to competing against a great Mississippi team and coach Ben Howland and hopefully we can make it to Thursday and cut down some nets."

Pregame Reading: Three Things to Know

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few hours separate Penn State men's basketball from a its NIT quarterfinals tipoff on the road at Marquette. The Nittany Lions and the Golden Eagles get underway at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Prior to tipoff though, check out three key storylines ahead of Penn State's first appearance in the NIT quarterfinals since taking home the title in 2009. The Nittany Lions have never lost an NIT quarterfinal outing at 5-0 all-time, having last met Marquette in the semifinals of the 1995 NIT.

Defending the Three
Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers noted Monday that key to his early prep in watching Marquette on film came in their performance from the 3-point line.

"It's amazing now seeing Howard and these guys, how they get shots up and they make three's at an alarming rate," Chambers said. You really have to be able to guard them, they're really good basketball players.

For the Golden Eagles, that strength from behind the arc comes from one of the most dangerous 3-point duos in the nation. Through March 18, Marquette's Markus Howard (109) and Andrew Rowsey (119) have combined for 228 3-pointers, good for the most in NCAA Division I.

Howard highlighted the season with a career-high 52 point outing in Marquette's win against Providence in early January. The sophomore guard finished 17-of-29 from the field and 11-for-19 from 3-point. His 11 triples set a Marquette record and a BIG EAST all-time mark.

Rebounding Key
Dominating on the boards is also another area Chambers mentioned this week.

"You have to do a really good job of defending the three but also limiting them to one chance," Chambers said. "Rebounding is going to be big, Temple got us pretty good."

On the year, the Nittany Lions have out-rebounded their opponents in 21 games, with a 17-4 record in games where Penn State has won the advantage on the glass.

With Penn State's Mike Watkins out with an injury, Chambers is pleased with what he has seen from freshman John Harrar. Combined with veteran Julian Moore, Chambers noted the two are combining for eight boards per game, which fills in well for the loss of the usual double-double from Watkins.

Harrar has started each of the last five games including both NIT outings against Temple and Notre Dame. He scored a career-high six points and added a personal-best four points to help the Nittany Lions against the Fighting Irish.

Long Term Benefits
While Chambers hasn't started any of the big picture, looking back-type of conversation at this point, there's certainly no doubting Penn State has a tremendous amount to gain in terms of valuable experience for its young squad.

"The fact that we're getting critical minutes for certain guys," Chambers said. "They get to play in game-like situations. At Notre Dame, wearing the green uni's, there's nothing better than that. You take these experiences and it's only going to help us for next year. As a staff it's only going to help us prepare, what we liked, what we didn't like and how we're going to move forward in the future."

Penn State Pushes Past Temple in NIT Opener

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seven years ago during this very week in March, Fran Dunphy's Temple Owls used  some last-second heroics in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament to end Penn State's postseason run.

 

Penn State fans remember it all too well. But these were two completely different teams than the ones that laced up in 2011. Penn State has a different coaching staff from top to bottom, alongside a totally new roster.

 

Seven years later, the Nittany Lions weren't focused on the past headed into their 11th NIT first round game. Instead, fourth-seeded Penn State was still ready to climb.

 

It hardly came easy though, as Penn State's usual winning blueprint, did not pan out like it usually does.

 

Sophomore guard Tony Carr, sophomore forward Lamar Stevens and senior guard Shep Garner average 45.2 combined points per game. By halftime, Penn State's three active leading scorers were held to a combined zero points.

 

Battling back from a third quarter deficit as large as 11, the Nittany Lions flipped the script, using a 15-3 run to bury the Owls. The Nittany Lions outscored Temple 19-9 in the fourth quarter, using the final scoring streak across 3:24 to complete the comeback.

 

"I can't say enough about the guys," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "We had to overcome a lot and that's what the climb is about. That's what it's all about - just handling adversity. Give Temple a lot of credit. They came in here and tried to punch us in the mouth, that's for sure, and these guys were able to find a way at the end."

 

Handling adversity - something Penn State has done all season long. Wednesday night was nothing new though as adversity has hit this team in a variety of ways.

 

Trailing by six with just fewer than four minutes to play, the Nittany Lions relied on their experienced veterans in junior guard Josh Reaves and Garner for a pair of perfectly timed treys. Garner's swished through the net with 2:43 on the clock, tying the game for the first time all night.

 

"I didn't want it to be my last game," Garner said. "I definitely wanted to come out here and win. It came down to who wanted it more, us or them, so we made the plays down the stretch to win the game."

 

Rising to the occasion, Reaves had been consistent for the Nittany Lions all night.

A 35 percent shooter from beyond the arc during the year, Reaves knocked down three of his four attempts from deep in the first half and led all scorers at the break with 13 points. He went on to shoot 4-for-6 from the 3-point line, which was lengthened in one of a few experimental rules utilized in this year's NIT.

 

Reaves finished with a season-high 19 points to lead both teams. The do-it-all guard also pulled in 11 rebounds for his second career double-double.

 

"They did a really good job just keying in on our main guys, and I was just fortunate enough to get open shots and I made them," Reaves said. "They tried to force me a certain way and our bigs did a really good job of just setting screens and rolling and just being in the right spots. I was just taking as much advantage as I could."

 

It was Lamar Stevens, who like many of the Nittany Lions, was playing against high school teammates and friends, who gave the Nittany Lions perhaps its biggest boost. Stevens posted a monster block out of a Temple timeout to set up another Garner 3-pointer on the other end. Just like that, Penn State's two-point advantage grew to five and as the wide smile came across Stevens' face when Temple called another timeout, Penn State would not look back.

 

"I just found spots to get open and my coach called a great play at the end of the game," Garner said. "My teammates set a great screen where the guy just fell and I made a shot. It came down to getting stops because when we can get stops, we can get an easy offensive going. That's what we did down the stretch, we got stops. It was on the defensive end. Our offensive can take care of itself as long as we are defending and rebounding."

 

Not to be missed in Penn State's comeback effort though was sophomore guard Nazeer Bostick, who brought Penn State within five at halftime and found his way to the free throw line in the final minutes of the game. Bostick went 4-for-4 from the field, finishing second on the team behind Reaves with 12 points.

 

Penn State will hardly have time to celebrate its NIT victory, with a matchup against No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the second round. Tip time is set for noon in South Bend, Indiana. 

Nittany Lions Set for NIT Preparations

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.  - For the first time under the direction of Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, the Nittany Lions are headed to the NIT.

"To keep playing, to keep getting these guys better, it's definitely something we're excited about and we're not going to take it for granted at all," Chambers said. "We've had some good practices the last couple of days. So now that we know what we're doing and who we're playing and where we're playing, I think the practices can only get better." 

Making its 11th overall appearance in the event and its first since 2009, fourth-seeded Penn State will host fifth-seeded Temple Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

It's been nearly 10 days since the Nittany Lions lost to No. 2 seed Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2011.

With NCAA Tournament hopes on the mind, Penn State didn't see its name flash on the screen during the evening's earlier selection show. The Nittany Lions will have to put the disappointment aside quickly though. 

"I told them be upset right now, be disappointed right now and in a couple of hours, that's over with," Chambers said. "We're going to get up tomorrow morning we're going to get better and we're going to go compete in one of the better NIT bracket's I've seen in a long time. There's some really quality teams."

With 21 wins tied for the third-most in Penn State program history, the Nittany Lions will now have the opportunity to keep it rolling.

"I think the fact that we put ourselves to 21 wins and we put ourselves in the position to play in such a great tournament, should be easy to get them ready," Chambers said.

There's no doubting whether or not the Nittany Lion will be ready, as Penn State saw its first round matchup revealed later Sunday evening to a bit of an exciting surprise.

"It was definitely funny to us," senior Shep Garner said. "Coming from the Philly area, playing against some of our good friends. It's different, but it's going to be fun and it's going to be a tough game. We're going to make it tough. I know they are going to come out and play hard and so are we. It's going to be an awesome environment." 

There's no shortage of Penn State-Temple connections, from postseason meetings to 12th-year head coach Fran Dunphy and one of the Owls' top offensive options in Shizz Alston, Jr.

"Those relationships run very deep," Chambers said. "Obviously I know coach Dunphy very, very well. He coached my brother at Penn so I've been connected to coach Dun for a long time. Our players know most of their guys."

For sophomore Lamar Stevens, a Penn State-Temple matchup has been something he has wanted since he arrived in Happy Valley.

"I went to high school with Shizz Alston for two years, he's one of my best friends," Stevens said. "I'm excited to play against him."

Despite the sting of muted NCAA Tournament hopes, The Nittany Lions are still among seven former NIT Champions to round out the 32-team field and ready to jump right into preparations fresh off a spring break.

"I think again playing Temple, I think it's going to be flushed because they know each other so well," Chambers said. "When they go back home, especially in the summer, they're playing pick up there. I think it's going to be flushed by tomorrow morning. I think by the time 3:30 rolls around for practice, they'll be ready to go." 

Should Penn State win Wednesday evening, the Nittany Lions will advance to the NIT second round, playing the winner of No. 1 seed Notre Dame and eighth-seeded Hampton.

By Jeff Rice, Special to GoPSUsports.com
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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