Believe the hype!
Penn State fans, football coaches and alumni, packed Madison Square Garden Thursday night as the Nittany Lions (26-13) took on Utah (23-12) in the National Invitational Tournament championship game.
And they didn’t leave disappointed.
With such a young squad, Penn State showed everyone why they will be a big threat to win the Big Ten title next year as the Nittany Lions used a big second half to cruise to a 82-66 victory over the Runnin’ Utes.
— Penn State Men’s Basketball (@PennStateMBB) March 30, 2018
With the win, Penn State’s 26 victories are the second-highest in program history after the Nittany Lions won a record 27 games in 2008-09.
The victory gave Penn State its second NIT championship in program history after winning the tournament for the first time in 2009.
Forward Lamar Stevens led the way for the Nittany Lions as the sophomore scored a game-high 28 points to go with three assists and two rebounds. It was also a strong showing from guard Tony Carr as the sophomore just missed out on a triple-double as he finished the night with 15 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds.
Penn State reached the finals after taking down Temple in the first round before upsetting top-seeded Notre Dame and second-seeded Marquette en route to the championship game.
Utah came into the tournament as a No. 2 seed and coasted with big victories over UC Davis and LSU. The Runnin Utes then held on to beat top-seeded Saint Mary’s on the road before defeating Western Kentucky to reach the championship game.
Utah’s Sedrick Barefield had a team-high 22 points in the loss. The junior guard hit a game-high six 3-pointers. Senior guard Bibbins scored 15 points and Tyler Rawsom chipped in with 11 points in their final games at Utah.
Utah’s bid for its first NIT championship since 1947 was denied.
“I’ve said all along that defense wins championships,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve let a team shoot 50 percent from the field.”
Yet despite the loss, Krystkowiak noted that he’s never has as much fun this year as he’s had in a long, long time.
“I can say without a doubt — I might have had some times with the Milwaukee Bucks as a player — but there’s a lot of years of playing and coaching that I’ve never enjoyed the year more from start to finish.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” Krystkowiak added. “I’d keep going (if we could).”
Unfortunately for Krystkowiak, the title game was the last for his seniors in Gabe Bealer, Justin Bibbins, David Collette and Tyler Rawson.
BIG CROWD: The 11,175 fans at MSG were the most for an NIT final since 2005.