Penn State, Utah play for NIT title at Madison Square Garden
Maybe even Flavor Flav would admit, do believe the hype.
Shep Garner has brought the noise as Penn State’s career 3-point leader, a mark he set when the Nittany Lions routed Mississippi State in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals.
Penn State fans at the Garden — which included football coach James Franklin — chanted Garner’s name as he moved closer to the record. He hit six to reach 334 in his career and top Pete Lisicky’s 332.
Garner, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, might put that record out of reach for a few more years with another big game in the NIT championship when the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions (25-13) play No. 2 seed Utah (23-11) for the title on Thursday night.
“I’m going to play big in the Garden,” Garner said.
No word yet if Garner’s cousin — Public Enemy rapper Flavor Flav — will be in the house. But Garner doesn’t need to check Flav’s signature oversized clock to know it’s time to win a title.
“We were a little disappointed not to make the (NCAA) tournament, but we made another goal,” Garner said. “We saw we were in the NIT and our goal was to get to New York and win it. That’s what everyone wants to do. We put ourselves in a good position to do so.”
The Nittany Lions advanced to the NIT championship game for the third time in program history and first time since winning the 2009 title. Coach Pat Chambers, a former assistant coach under Jay Wright at Villanova, took over in 2011 and has struggled to find any kind of regular success. The Nittany Lions have never made the NCAA Tournament under Chambers and they’ll have just their second winning record in seven seasons.
But Penn State’s 25 wins are tied for second-highest in program history with the 1989-90 team (25-9). The Nittany Lions won a record 27 games in 2008-09. They’ve won 90 games over the past five seasons, the most by the program during a five-year span since starting Big Ten play in 1992-93.
“This has got to be a springboard for us,” Chambers said. “As long as they continue to compete, continue to grow, continue to embrace these experiences, it can only help us for our future.”
Penn State knocked off NIT top-seed Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, to advance in the tournament. Garner is a senior and star sophomore point guard Tony Carr, who scored 21 points in the semifinal, could leave for the NBA.
It’s up to Utah to shut ’em down. The Utes also feel the urgency.
David Collette, Justin Bibbins and Tyler Rawson, three seniors, all made pivotal plays down the stretch in a 69-64 win over Western Kentucky in the semifinal.
Collette all but guaranteed the Utes would win the NIT before the team left Salt Lake City.
“We’re coming home with a trophy,” he said.
Utah, a regular in the NCAA Tournament for years under Rick Majerus and the 1998 national runner-up, will try and win the NIT for the first time since 1947.
Winning it all in New York would mean more to Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak than making the NCAA Tournament and experiencing an early exit.
“I got an email from (92-year-old) Arnie Ferrin who played on Utah’s team in 1947 when they won the NIT Championship, and there’s still three living members on that team and we were all on a big thread,” Krystkowiak said.
“When he says to me, ‘Coach, one more, man, bring home the trophy’ and the pride in all of that — to me that is much more significant than getting to the NCAA Tournament and losing your first game.”
NIT or NCAAs, the point of playing is to go deep in March and cut down the nets.
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