Lions fall in Big Ten semis

NEW YORK — The game was already out of hand, but Shep Garner refused to throw in the towel against Purdue.

“I knew I didn’t want this to be my last game tonight,” Garner said. “And I told my teammates, you know, I’ll give it everything I’ve got to get this win.”

His teammates recognized their senior’s effort.

“For him to step up in that situation,” Julian Moore said, “It really meant the world.”

Penn State’s dramatic postseason run for an NCAA Tournament bid fell short, 78-70, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Garner led all scorers with 33 points but the Boilermakers maintained control throughout the second half. The Boilermakers’ defense and dominant 7-footer prevented the Lions from reaching the Big Ten championship game.

Josh Reaves missed all nine of his shots. Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr were a combined 8-of-30 from the field, finishing with 26 points.

The teams had opposing efficiencies at the start of the contest. The Boilermakers made their first five shots. The Lions had trouble getting a bucket inside the perimeter, converting on three of their first eight attempts.

The problem was 7-foot-2 and very comfortable in the paint. Isaac Haas stood in the center of the Purdue defense, keeping the Lions from driving.

“He’s probably the biggest person I’ve ever seen in my life,” Moore said. “It’s difficult to play anyone that big.”

Mike Watkins, the Lions’ best big man, was on the bench again with a knee injury.

The plan was to have the guards block passing lanes and physically wear down Haas, who recorded 17 points.

“We sent everyone we had at him,” Freshman forward John Harrar said.

The Boilermakers jumped out to an early 6-point lead, and held it for most of the first half. Their scheme was simple: work it to Haas in the middle and if he couldn’t get to the hoop, dish it out to any of Purdue’s deadly perimeter shooters.

Purdue had little reason to drop off in efficiency, but they did. Just past the midpoint of the first half, the Boilermakers struggled, making only one of 10 shots.

The Lions, led by Garner’s impressive 3-point shooting, leveled the score, 20-20, with five minutes left in the half.

Garner, who was 5-of-6 in the first half, continued to hit the mark. A tough layup from the senior guard gave the Lions a 7-point lead within 50 seconds of tying the game.

But missed opportunities and emotions gave the Boilermakers momentum heading into the halftime break. Coach Patrick Chambers received a technical foul after a verbal exchange with a referee.

“I think they were very physical,” Chambers said. “Obviously that’s why I felt like I needed to get T’ed up – my first T in a long, long time.”

Carsen Edwards, who led the Boilermakers with 27 points, buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds as Purdue finished the half with seven straight points to take a 33-31 lead into halftime. The key to their success was making sure that Stevens and Carr’s shots were contested.

“He’s a guy that can make tough shots consistently,” coach Matt Painter said of Carr. “When you’re shooting a lot from 20 to 25 feet, when people are hounding you, sometimes you have nights like he did.”

Purdue’s long offensive possessions and stout defense allowed them to keep distance from Penn State after the halftime break. The exhaustion of the two previous from the Lions wins against Northwestern and Ohio State started to show down the stretch.

Methodically and with a painstaking pace, Purdue crawled to a 15-point lead as Penn State’s tournament hopes slipped away.

The Lions passionately tried to storm a comeback, but the Boilermakers never let them make a dent.

Chambers is optimistic about the Lions chances to make the NCAA tournament, but the loss to Purdue was most likely the last straw.