The Penn State Nittany Lions and Marquette Golden Eagles played an entertaining, fast-paced game on Tuesday night from Milwaukee. Penn State withstood 29 points in the 4th quarter from Marquette and will advance on to Madison Square Garden in the NIT’s Semifinals. Sophomore Lamar Stevens tied a career-high with 30 points and fellow sophomore Tony Carr poured in 25. Marquette was paced by senior Andrew Rousey with 29 points on 6-11 shooting from three.
The win moves Penn State to Madison Square Garden in a matchup against Mississippi State in the NIT Semifinals. It is the fourth time in the last 20 years Penn State has advanced to the Final Four of the NIT. They won the event in 2009.
Let’s take a look at what we can learn from Penn State’s victory.
What We Learned
1. Penn State’s “Big Three” Were All On
Penn State’s Big Three - Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Shep Garner effectively were the Nittany Lions’ offense on Tuesday night. The trio combined for 75 of Penn State’s 85 points and made 28 out of 31 field goals. Any time Penn State needed a big basket, those three were there to carry the Nittany Lions.
At the center of it all was Stevens. The 6-foot-8 forward scored 30 on 64 percent shooting and played all 40 minutes. He was a beast on Tuesday night. It was a welcomed sight for the talented player from Pennsylvania. He hasn’t been all that efficient over the last five games, not shooting above 45 percent since a late February game against Nebraska. Night’s like this one make the next two years of Stevens a very exciting proposition.
Carr was excellent as well. You’d like to see fewer turnovers (four), but Carr’s commitment to getting to the line the last two games has been impressive. After no trips to the line against Temple, Carr has gone 21-26 from the line over the last two games. His 14 attempts on Tuesday night were the second-most this season. He did miss a few free throws late, and that could be a cause for concern in the Semifinals, but an aggressive Carr not settling for jumpers and three-pointers is a good thing for Penn State.
Finally, there’s Shep Garner. The senior scored 19 points on 5-8 shooting from three-point range. His 112 three-pointers this season is a new school record. His steady play and scoring punch has been essential to Penn State all season. Without the threat of Garner bombing three’s, teams can easily clog the paint and make driving lanes difficult. A solid game from Garner on what’s been a solid season for the 6-foot-2 guard.
2. Consistency On The Defensive End Wasn’t There
Penn State is a good defensive team. The metrics back it up. KenPom puts the Nittany Lions as a top 20 team defensively, and the wins over Temple and Notre Dame saw Nittany Lion defense leading the charge to victory. But things haven’t been always consistent on the defensive end this season and Tuesday night’s game was a reflection of that.
For two quarters, Penn State was excellent. The second and third quarters Penn State gave up 29 points and built a 63-51 lead after three quarters. However, Penn State also gave up 22 points in the first quarter and 29 in the fourth as Marquette put on a furious comeback.
It follows a season-long narrative of Penn State really getting after it defensively some games and then falls off in others. A team that gave up 85 to NC State also held Ohio State to 56 at home. A team that allowed for 95 against Minnesota, but surrendered 63 to Notre Dame on the road in the second round of the NIT. There was also 98 points against Texas A&M, but a 67 point defensive scoring average in the Big Ten this year.
Marquette is a very good offensive team. KenPom puts them in the top 15 offensively. The Nittany Lions were also on the road, but to give up 29 in the fourth quarter I’m sure has Pat Chambers shaking his head.
It should also be mentioned that the injury to Mike Watkins absolutely impacts Penn State in a negative way. The shot-blocking presence has been sorely missed in the late part this season, but Penn State will need to try and lock it down defensively against Mississippi State on March 27th. The Bulldogs have great frontcourt size and put up 79 on a good Louisville defense Tuesday night.
3. What Does This Run Mean For Pat Chambers?
The perpetual hot seat talk for Chambers is a little exhausting, but given how far Penn State is going in this tournament, how much will the administration of Penn State take this into account when evaluating Chambers this offseason?
The AD said at the start of the season that the NCAA Tournament was the goal, but left it a little open-ended on when Chambers needed to get there. This is far and away the best year in the Pat Chambers era, but was it the year they needed to make the NCAA’s? One can look on the horizon and wonder what is next for the Nittany Lion program? Carr is a borderline first-round pick in the NBA Draft and could move on and Garner graduates. Stevens and Watkins return, but there will need to be some player development from younger guys like Nazeer Bostick.
There will be plenty of time to speculate on Chambers’s job status, and kudos to the coaching staff on getting these players up for the NIT, but the situation here is fascinating, especially given the run Penn State is now on.