They came. They climbed. They conquered! In the end, they rose up that ladder and cut down those nets! Penn State trampled Utah last night in New York City 82-66 and were crowned your 2018 NIT Champions. The Nittany Lions pulled away with a strong second-half surge and closed the door on a storybook season on a Madison Square Garden court that’s become all too familiar as our home-away-from-home and for all the right reasons.
Lamar Stevens led the way and earned MVP honors by crushing the Ute’s hearts and pouring in a game-high 28 points. Josh Reaves added 18 in his usual energetic way and senior Julian Moore added a strong 6 inside to end his career on a high note. Utah made a conscious effort to hound 3-point ace Shep Garner but that did not prevent the senior sharpshooter from raining a few well-timed daggers anyway and freshman Jon Harrar continued to impress in the paint. Then there’s Tony. Tony Carr turned in another masterpiece of a performance by doing Tony Carr-things so well they have raised NBA eyebrows. He fell one rebound short of collecting a triple-double and added 15 points and 14 assists to his box score.
Against all odds, this squad turned the disappointment of missing March Madness into a rallying cry. One by one, they ran the gauntlet and left opponents in their wake. Little Brother from Philly, Irish Eyes and top-seeded Notre Dame on St.Patty’s Day, the Battle of We Are’s at Marquette, Joe Moorhead’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, and finally the My Cousin Vinny’s from Utah. A lackluster 36 minutes versus Temple in round one morphed into a team firing on all cylinders from then on. It was a thing of beauty to watch and led some serious credence to those still pining over not making it into the Big Dance.
What could have been is irrelevant at this point. Last night they cut down nets, today they are home in Happy Valley as the two-time NIT Champs. With 26 wins, they fell one short of tying the all-time record for Penn State, and by the time Monday night rolls around the Nittany Lions will be one of only two teams in college basketball to end their season with a victory. That ‘hot seat’ head coach Pat Chambers supposedly sat on back in January? Go ahead and burn it. Throw it in the trash or add it to your wood pile for next winter. He’s asked us to ‘Climb With Them.’ Last night they climbed, all the way to the top and have the snipped nets to prove it!