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
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
doesn't give much thought to the fact that at some point next week he'll be
playing in his final game.
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
took that mentality from boxer Floyd Mayweather.
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.
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
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.
the aura of the big stage to the lights or the rim, it's something Garner can't
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."
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.
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."
State's path through the NIT has had its share of challenges, but with each
taste of adversity the Nittany Lions continued to climb.
off a 63-57 win against Temple in the first round, Garner pulled the team in
after practice for a message.
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."
message was received.
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."
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.
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."
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.
asked about his confidence though, Chambers looks at the free throws.
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."
the most important thing though, is the confidence teammates.
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."
earned the confidence of his teammates long before he entered the starting
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.
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
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.
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."
Stevens, Harrar is a whole different animal, for Carr, the sight was simply
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."
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.
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."
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
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.
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."
a spot in the finals on the line though, Penn State won't have to spend time
searching for motivation.
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."