No. 6 Penn State-Akron observations: Nittany Lions cruise in shutout

No. 6 Penn State-Akron observations: Nittany Lions cruise in shutout

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Saquon Barkley rushed 14 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns as No. 6 Penn State drubbed Akron 52-0 in its season opener Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

Trace McSorley also threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and DeAndre Thompkins returned a punt 61 yards for a score. It was PSU’s first punt return TD since Derrick Williams took one 63 yards against Wisconsin in 2008.

Both of McSorley’s scoring passes went to tight end Mike Gesicki, who had six catches in all.

Nearly all of Penn State’s starters sat out the fourth quarter.

• Barkley was Barkley, scoring on runs of 30 and three yards. It also appeared he went 87 yards for a score in the second quarter, but it was ruled he stepped out at the seven – a play that was for some reason not subjected to replay review. His 30-yard TD later in the period was reviewed, even though he didn’t come anywhere near the sideline. He also caught three passes for 54 yards, including a 43-yarder in the third quarter that set up McSorley’s second scoring strike to Gesicki.

• McSorley overcame an early end-zone interception to go 18 for 25 for 280 yards through the air. He also ran 12 times for 48 yards.

• Thompkins returned four punts for 127 yards in all, an average of 31.8 yards a runback. Penn State’s punt returners averaged 6.5 yards per return last season.

• Tyler Davis missed a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter, his first real miss in 33 career attempts. His two previous misses had both been blocks. He rebounded to hit a career-long 47-yarder in the third quarter.

• For some reason, coach James Franklin felt compelled to use Barkley as his kickoff-return man to start the third quarter, at which point the Lions led 35-0. Seemed like sheer lunacy, given Barkley’s importance to the team.

• The Lions used backup quarterback Tommy Stevens as a running back in the second half. It was in that guise that he caught his first career pass, for a gain of seven yards. He later completed an option pass to DaeSean Hamilton after taking a handoff from McSorley going right. The Lions were leading 45-0 at the time, and perhaps not coincidentally, the Zips were called for personal fouls on two subsequent runs by Stevens, who took over at QB. The second, a targeting foul on defensive end Deon’Tae Moore, resulted in Moore’s ejection.

• As might be expected, PSU dominated the line of scrimmage. The new-look offensive line – Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood), Steven Gonzalez, Connor McGovern, Brendan Mahon and Chasz Wright – helped the Lions pile up 255 rushing yards, and 577 yards in all. And the defense recorded 14 tackles for loss, including three sacks. Backup defensive end Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley) had 1.5 TFLs, including a sack. Buchholz saw extensive action when the starter, Shareef Miller (George Washington), departed after the first series with a leg injury. He did not return.

• Redshirt freshman defensive end Shaka Toney (Imhotep Charter), renowned for his quickness, saw the first action of his career in the second half, and on one pass rush drew a holding penalty from offensive tackle Jovann Letuli. He also jumped offsides later in the half.

• Hamilton, who finished with three catches for 74 yards, had a rough time in the first half. He had a drop on PSU’s fifth offensive snap, and two other balls – one of which would have gone for a TD – were either thrown a little behind him or a little high. He managed to get his hands on both, but he was unable to come down with either.

• Juwan Johnson (Glassboro, New Jersey) was as good as his preseason billing. Widely viewed as a breakout candidate entering the fall, the redshirt sophomore wide receiver had four catches for 84 yards in his first career start. 

• Saeed Blacknall was viewed as one of the Lions’ key receivers entering the season, but he was listed as the second-stringer behind Thompkins earlier in the week and saw a great deal of action in garbage time.

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.