After 56-0 blowout, No. 4 Penn State feels there's more to give as Big Ten play looms

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After 56-0 blowout, No. 4 Penn State feels there's more to give as Big Ten play looms

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Saquon Barkley hung another masterpiece Saturday but were you to browse the rest of the gallery, you might have found scaffolding and half-completed pen-and-inks.

Because even at 3-0, even with a No. 4 national ranking, there is still a work-in-progress feel to this Penn State team.

Is that nitpicking? Is that the equivalent of searching for a smudge on the Mona Lisa?

Not at all. Not if you listen to the principals.

Barkley turned a nothing pass into an 85-yard work of art in the first quarter of Saturday’s 56-0 embarrassment of Georgia State. The junior running back is a transcendent player, a Heisman hopeful, a certain early NFL draft pick.

And while coach James Franklin thought his team played a complete game against the overmatched Panthers (something he also said after a season-opening 52-0 rout of Akron), he did raise some questions.

He said the Lions can be better along both lines — that they can do a better job running the ball and stopping the run, staples in any era. He might have added that his receiving corps could be a little more productive, his quarterback a little more consistent, his guys a little less dependent on Barkley.

And indeed they will have to be, with the Big Ten season now upon them. PSU opens at Iowa next Saturday night.

“We knew we were dangerous (coming into the season),” safety Marcus Allen said, “but I think we see we can be at an elite status and we can really be that elite team.”

And how do they get there?

“Hard work,” he said. “Hard work and dedication.”

Suffice it to say, then, that the non-conference portion of their season was a starting point, that they applied the first brush strokes to their self-portrait.

“This is probably our best week of preparation, our most complete week,” quarterback Trace McSorley said.

And, he added, it is “a huge thing” to have that at this point.

Now the Lions just have to repeat it nine more times if they are to repeat as Big Ten champion.

McSorley was admittedly displeased with his play in last Saturday’s 33-14 victory over Pitt and spent the practice week smoothing out his mechanics. The result was an 18-for-23, 309-yard, four-touchdown performance. He also ran for a score.

He still appears to be working things out with a revamped receiving corps, which, since last season, has lost its best wideout, Chris Godwin, to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Juwan Johnson is still finding his way after a strong offseason. DeAndre Thompkins has made more of an impact as a punt returner. Saeed Blacknall, the hero of last year’s Big Ten championship game, registered his first catches of the fall (including a TD) Saturday.

And so on.

At least tight end Mike Gesicki is still around, and Barkley always seems to be everywhere McSorley needs him to be.

Which brings us to the 85-yard play. With PSU up 7-0 and facing 3rd-and-12 from its own 15, McSorley rolled right. Barkley was just a few yards in front of him and looking back at his QB, but for some reason, slid in the opposite direction, from the right flat to the left.

“It was kind of just a feel,” Barkley said. “I kind of thought that Trace was going to lose me and that me sliding would help.”

McSorley wound up firing a five-yard pass across his body to Barkley, and then the fun began. He juked one guy, outran just about everybody else down the sideline, cut back, picked up a block from wide receiver Brandon Polk and, before long, was standing in the end zone.

Asked to explain all that, Barkley said, “It just happens naturally. It’s kind of a reaction.”

Franklin reacted by saying that he “can’t imagine there is a more explosive, dangerous player in space” than Barkley, and added that his star was almost as excited about backup Nick Eury getting a carry late in the game as he was his own play.

“He is a special guy in a lot of different ways,” Franklin said. “I stopped being surprised or amazed a while ago with him.”

Barkley, who played two and a half quarters, finished with 226 all-purpose yards — 142 on four receptions, 47 on 10 rushes and a 37-yard kickoff return. He also believes he has more to provide.

“I feel faster (than in past years),” he said, “but I still feel like there’s room to improve. I feel like I can find a way to get another gear.”

The team as a whole will need to do that, too.

It’s the only way this season might end up being suitable for framing.

Penn State tops Utah to win NIT championship

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Penn State tops Utah to win NIT championship

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Flavor Flav had his red cap flipped backward as he pulled out his iPhone on the Madison Square Garden court. Flav held the camera steady and recorded cousin Shep Garner clip the final strands of the championship net and wave it toward the Penn State die-hards.

Flav's T-shirt at the NIT said it all for the Nittany Lions: Believe the hype!

Garner hit the 3-pointer that brought rapper and reality star Flavor Flav to his feet and helped send Penn State on its way to an NIT title in an 82-66 victory over Utah on Thursday night.

The fourth-seeded Nittany Lions (26-13) also knocked off No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the tournament en route to winning their first NIT title since 2009.

"This means the whole world to me right now ," Flavor Flav said.

They were pretty pumped in Happy Valley, too.

"I think we set the standard," Garner said. "We preach defense and rebounding, but now we have something we can always go to. We won something. We're champions."

Flavor Flav, member of the seminal `80s rap group Public Enemy, sang along to "Fight the Power" as it blasted in the Garden and had the PSU student section chanting "Flav! Flav! Flav!" as the Nittany Lions pulled away for a program-defining championship under coach Pat Chambers.

Lamar Stevens scored 28 points, Josh Reaves had 18 and Tony Carr had 15 points and 14 assists for Penn State.

Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center has a long-standing reputation as one of the dreariest arenas in college basketball. Penn State fans, from rappers to silver-haired alumni, packed the Garden all the way to the last row of the upper deck.

Penn State football coach James Franklin, who led the program to a Pinstripe Bowl victory in 2014, was in the house. Flavor Flav stole the show a few rows behind the PSU bench. Wearing a T-shirt that read "33 Shep Garner," Flavor Flav danced all night in his seat. Flavor Flav popped his T-shirt and raised the roof in the same arena where Public Enemy once tore down the house.

"I think we've proven to teams across the country that Penn State basketball is here to stay," Chambers said.

The clutch moment came in the third quarter when Garner -- who became Penn State's career 3-point leader in the tournament run -- hit a 3 for his first basket of the game and a 49-41 lead that had the fans going wild.

"To see my cousin break records, win trophies, all that, he deserves it," Flavor Flav said. "The whole team deserves it."

Reaves hit a crashing layup on a three-point play that stretched the lead to 11 and Stevens wagged his tongue toward the PSU fans on a jumper that helped blow open the game.

Flavor Flav raised an arm in the air when Garner sank a 3 early in the fourth for a 68-49 edge that all but put this one away.

The final minutes certainly put some flava in your ear -- half the MSG crowd chanted "We Are!" and the other half bellowed "Penn State!"

Yeah, boy!

Sedrick Barefield hit six 3s and scored 22 points for second-seeded Utah (23-12).

"You're always kind of watching the NIT and maybe you think of it as the consolation prize or whatever," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They have no idea how cool this was for us."

Big picture
Utah: David Collette, Justin Bibbins and Tyler Rawson are among the seniors moving on. ... Bibbins scored 15 points.

Penn State: Stevens reached 1,000 career points was named most outstanding player. ... 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 26 wins are second-highest in program history. The Nittany Lions won a record 27 games in 2008-09.

Big crowd
The 11,175 fans at MSG were the most for an NIT final since 2005.

"And you say we're a football school," Chambers cracked.

Something different
The NIT was a bit of a mad scientist in the college basketball lab. The game featured four 10-minute quarters. The tournament also implemented the FIBA 3-point line (22 feet, 1.75 inches), NBA-width lane of 16 inches, and a 20-second shot clock following offensive rebounds.

Penn State dominates Mississippi State to reach NIT title game

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Penn State dominates Mississippi State to reach NIT title game

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Nearly a month after Penn State was bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament, the Nittany Lions are back at Madison Square Garden with another chance to win a championship.

Tony Carr scored 21 points, Shep Garner added 18 while breaking the school record for career 3-pointers and Penn State routed Mississippi State 75-60 in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals Tuesday night.

"Of course 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 position to do so."

The fourth-seeded Nittany Lions (25-13) will play No. 2 seed Utah for the title Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

After the score was tied 9-all, Penn State ended the first quarter on a 9-2 run. From there, the Nittany Lions opened the second with a 19-0 spurt capped by Garner's 3 off an assist from Carr to make it 37-11.

With football coach James Franklin cheering from the stands, Penn State went up 42-23 at halftime and led by as many as 27.

Mississippi State (25-12) wasn't able to get within 20 again until there was 7:56 left in the game. Abdul Ado's dunk made it 65-47, but that was the closest the Bulldogs got before the waning moments.

"We were really impatient," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. "Once we started falling behind, we got anxious and we were shooting quick. Quick, bad shots and it just like, snowballed."

Tyson Carter scored 19 points off the bench to lead No. 4 seed Mississippi State. Ado had 13 points and seven rebounds.

Lamar Stevens scored 17 for Penn State, which shot 11 of 20 from 3-point territory. Carr had six assists and five rebounds.

Big picture
Penn State: While the Nittany Lions would have preferred to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, they made the NIT for the first time under seventh-year coach Pat Chambers. Penn State's last trip to the NIT title game was in 2009, when it beat Baylor for the crown. The school's only other appearance in the final was a loss to Minnesota in 1998.

Mississippi State: With just one senior on the roster, the Bulldogs will return most of their team and have something positive to build off as they try to move up the rankings in the rugged SEC next season.

Record producer
With his six 3-pointers, Garner broke Penn State's record for 3s in an NIT along with the school mark of 332 held by Pete Lisicky (1995-98). Garner also had six 3s in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss to Purdue, giving him 12 in his last two games at Madison Square Garden and 334 for his career.

"They say the record is an individual record, but I've had a lot of teammates that had a lot to do with the record," Garner said. "A lot of people that set screens for me to get me open, break passes to them, they put it right on the button for me and I just finish the job. That's a team record. It's a lot of people that had stuff to do with it. I tip my hat to my teammates and my coaches to put me in a position to do something special like that."

Up next
Penn State: Will try to win the second NIT championship in school history when it faces Utah (23-11), which beat Western Kentucky 69-64 in the first semifinal.

Mississippi State: Starts preparing for a promising 2018-19 season.