For No. 4 Penn State, beating Pittsburgh ends up 'just like beating Akron'

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For No. 4 Penn State, beating Pittsburgh ends up 'just like beating Akron'

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – They put up 33 points against a team that might or might not be a rival (more on that in a moment), and won by 19.

And, well, that wasn’t quite enough. Not to them.

“One of the weird things about today, when we got in the locker room, we felt as an offense we didn’t play our best football — that we had chances to put more points on the board,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said after the fourth-ranked Lions beat Pitt 33-14 on Saturday afternoon (see Observations).

There were missed opportunities, momentary struggles, long stretches when McSorley and Co. were marooned on the sidelines while the Panthers controlled the ball. At the same time, the Lions (2-0) had two one-play touchdown drives, and none of their five scoring marches lasted longer than 2:43.

“It was not like a dejected feeling,” McSorley said of the postgame mood, “because we got the win. It was one of those where, like, it didn’t feel like one where we put 33 points on the board. It’s something you like to see, almost, because you put 33 points on the board, guys are whining and down on themselves because we expected more. That’s something that I think is kind of a silver lining for us, that we can keep pushing toward that.”

McSorley finished his day 15 for 28 for 164 and three touchdowns, with one interception. He improved as he went along (9 for 13, 120 yards in the second half), which perhaps stands to reason, given that he was still pondering last year’s meeting when he took the field – one that ended with Pitt hanging on for a 42-39 victory, when he was intercepted in the end zone with 1:15 left.

“That was something, when I think of last year’s game, that stands out a lot,” he said.

As for the larger debate — the rivalry-or-not-a-rivalry discussion that has been beaten to death — coach James Franklin rekindled it during his postgame remarks by saying, “I know last year for their win it was like the Super Bowl, but for us this was just like beating Akron (by a 52-0 count in the opener).”

That dropped a few jaws in the media roo and led to the inevitable follow-up question about how such a statement might play in Pittsburgh.

“I’ve been saying for two years that each win is like the Super Bowl for us,” he said. “You can interpret it however you want. Last week, we beat Akron and it was a great win. This week, we beat Pittsburgh and it was a great win. This win is no more significant than last week.”

Then there was the take of safety Marcus Allen, who contributed a game-high 12 tackles and a safety to Saturday’s effort.

“It’s one game at time,” he said. “We approached this game like every other game, but no one’s naïve. Guys had, like, grudges, a chip on their shoulder, coming into this game.”

The crowd of 109,898, the seventh-largest in Beaver Stadium history and the largest since 2009, was in full froth as well. McSorley had a look around as he emerged from the south tunnel beforehand, something he said he always does.

“Today it was one of those you walked out (and said), ‘Man there’s a lot of people here,’ ” he said.

He threw the first of two touchdown passes to tight end Mike Gesicki after Grant Haley’s interception four plays into the game, then found Gesicki for a 10-yard TD on the Lions’ third possession. But McSorley was just 6 for 15 for 44 yards and a pick in the first half, and as Franklin said, missing “some throws … that he normally doesn’t.”

McSorley admitted to being “just a little bit jittery” — that his feet weren’t settled, that he had a hard time finding his groove.

“I think just kind of the emotions of everything coming into today got the best of me at the beginning,” he said.

Then there was the matter of Pitt’s ball-hoggery. The Panthers’ first-half advantage in time of possession was 21:51-8:09, but they nonetheless trailed, 14-3 — something that called to mind a game PSU’s great 1994 team played against Northwestern.

That day the first-half time advantage belonged to the Wildcats, 24:21-5:39. The score? Penn State 38, Northwestern 3. The final was 45-17, and someone was left to marvel afterward about a Lions team that seemingly didn’t even need the ball to score.

It kind of seemed that way Saturday, too. Penn State added to its lead courtesy of McSorley’s 46-yard TD pass to Saquon Barkley early in the third quarter — a play on which Barkley found himself singled up against linebacker Saleem Brightwell – and scored again when Barkley plowed eight yards into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That made it 28-6. The Panthers crept within 1 but could get no closer.

Barkley was solid — 14 carries for 88 yards, four catches for 45 — but the Lions were outgained 342-312 and out-possessed, 38:20-21:40.

The latter stat, Franklin said, is “not as big of a factor as it’s been in the past, but for us we are mainly worried about the scoreboard.”

And in that regard, Saturday was a rousing success. But these guys want more. Always more.

Penn State tops Utah to win NIT championship

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Penn State tops Utah to win NIT championship

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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.