Elite QBs lead No. 2 Penn State against No. 6 Ohio State

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Elite QBs lead No. 2 Penn State against No. 6 Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.T. Barrett hasn't been playing at Ohio State forever. It just seems like it to Penn State coach James Franklin.

Barrett helped lead the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014, Franklin's first year in Happy Valley. That year's game between the Big Ten rivals became one of Barrett's first signature wins as he scored twice in overtime to help the Buckeyes escape Beaver Stadium with a 31-24 win.

And Franklin knows the fifth-year senior quarterback is playing as well as ever, and his supporting cast again is typical Ohio State star quality. That makes the Buckeyes dangerous.

"You're talking about a guy who's had an unbelievable college career. He's probably playing his best football right now," Franklin said.

The No. 2 Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) visit No. 6 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0) on Saturday in what could be the Big Ten game of the year.

There is as much respect on the Ohio State side for Penn State's junior quarterback Trace McSorley, also playing his gritty best. He has shown he can move the offense and score on elite defenses. Last week against Michigan, he threw for 282 yards and a score and ran for 76 yards and three more touchdowns.

"His competitive spirit is off the charts," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's not the biggest guy, but he competes so damn hard. That's what makes J.T. Barrett so special, that's what made Alex Smith so special, Tebow, etc., they're all different sizes, shapes and forms, yet the common trait of winners is competitive spirit."

And like Barrett, McSorley has elite athletes playing around him, namely dynamic tailback Saquon Barkley. One more big performance out of Barkley this weekend could make him the clear Heisman Trophy front-runner down the stretch.

Some other things to watch for on Saturday:

So much at stake
A loss Saturday would have the biggest consequences for Ohio State, whose hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff would be dashed with a second defeat. If the Buckeyes beat Penn State and win out, they will be a serious playoff contender.

Walking away from Columbus with a defeat wouldn't be fatal to Penn State's championship hopes, but it would drop them down into a knot of one-loss teams vying to get noticed by the committee, likely without another chance to beat a highly ranked team in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Bucks bolstered by bye week?
The script is flipped from last year's meeting between these two teams. Penn State was coming off a bye week when they got Ohio State at home in 2016. The Buckeyes didn't see the 24-21 upset coming.

This time it's the Buckeyes who are rested and ready from the off week, as Penn State visits Columbus. The Ohio State players got the weekend off, but Meyer said they've also practiced hard, even playing an intense scrimmage near the end of last week.

Franklin said the bye week gives Ohio State an advantage.

"I think it helps a lot," he said. "There's no doubt about it. You just have more time for everything. More time to recover, more time to get healthy, more time to watch film and plan. It's valuable."

Meyer's teams, going back to his days as coach at Bowling Green, are 21-1 coming off a bye week.

How good is Ohio State?
The Buckeyes have smoked their last five opponents since the unexpected loss to Oklahoma in week two. Barrett has piled up the yards and touchdowns against badly out-manned teams, including Army and UNLV. Naturally, there are lingering doubts about whether the Buckeyes can do it against the likes of Penn State.

Meyer said the communication and execution are sharp, and he insists Barrett is better than seven weeks ago. And the receiving corps has come into its own, too.

"I think what's better right now is the chemistry between the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs, and J.T. and the offensive line," center Billy Price said. That allows for quicker adjustments.

"It's not two or three conversations, it's one conversation, here's the plan, lets rock and roll," the fifth-year senior said. "In this world, you don't want conversations, you want solutions."

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

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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.