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Penn State 82, Utah 66: Nittany Lions Are NIT Champions

Penn State bookends its season with an NIT championship.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Final-Penn State vs Utah Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long road to get to this point. Seven years of close, but no cigar, have pretty much been the definition of Penn State under Pat Chambers. Even this season, the Nittany Lions came close to putting themselves in position to make the NCAA Tournament, but no cigar. Then came the NIT.

Reminiscent of 2009’s NIT championship run, the Nittany Lions nearly had another close, but no cigar moment in the first round. Against Temple, the Nittany Lions had to rally late in the fourth quarter to avoid getting bounced, at home, in the opening game of the NIT. They followed up that scare with dominant games against Notre Dame and Marquette on the road, and an absolute thrashing of Mississippi State in the semifinal game in Madison Square Garden.

Against Utah, however, it looked like it would be another close, but no cigar moment early. The Nittany Lions started one for seven from the field, which allowed the Utes to build a six-point, 20-14 leas in the first quarter. Utah looked loose and ready to play, while the Penn State looked like they were still riding the high from the Mississippi State win. A Pat Chambers timeout after the made three that gave Utah the six-point lead, the Nittany Lions finally settled down. A 10-0 run turned a six-point deficit into a four point lead, and before you knew it, a four-point lead turned in to a 10-point lead.

Utah did everything in their power to stay in the game once Penn State took the double-digit lead, cutting it as close as two points in the second half, but every time the Utes made a run, the Nittany Lions responded with a run of their own to rebuild the lead and keep Utah at arm’s length. Once Penn State built a 15-point team, that was all she wrote.

Pat Chambers’s team gets to close the season on a good note. For the first time in his tenure, his team gets to cut the nets in a tournament setting. When the everlasting question of first-round tournament loss or NIT championship comes up again, show that person Shep Garner’s face after cutting that first thread on the net. That said, see you at the NCAA Tournament next year.

Four Factors Analysis

This was, for all intents and purposes, an evenly played game. The intents and purposes, of course, were Penn State’s substantial advantage shooting the ball. Lamar Stevens was on fire, finishing 11 of 15 for the game. Not to be left behind, Josh Reaves went eight of 13 from the field as well. Everything else played as evenly as you could have expected.

Players of the Game

Another great night for Stevens, who finished the game with 28 points. The forward was unconscious from the field, as the aforementioned 11 for 15 night was a big reason behind Penn State’s big win. Tony Carr came this close from having himself a triple-double, which would have been the second in Penn State’s history. Reaves did Reaves things, picking up a line in every statistical category. Honorable mention goes to Shep Garner, who himself had a Reaves like game, with eight points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block in the game.

Random Observations

Don’t look back - Yes, this team could have been a tournament team, but how fun was it to see them just trash team after team in the NIT?

Story book ending - After all the struggles, after all the doubts, these guys get to finish the season on a high note. All of Shep Garner’s hard work is finally paying off.

Looking Ahead

It’s “Tony Carr to the NBA” watch time! The Nittany Lions will await the Guard’s decision, which will decide whether the Nittany Lions will be a top 25 team next season or just a tournament team.