Garner answers for Lions after Carr scare

By Paddy Cotter

For the Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK – A few minutes into the second half against Montana on Wednesday night, Tony Carr writhed in pain near halfcourt. With a teammate on either side of him, Penn State basketball’s top talent limped to the sideline and eventually the locker room.

Shep Garner, who handed down the role as offensive leader to Carr towards the end of last season, answered the call. With a bloodied nose after a fight for possession, Garner put the game away.

The senior connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to allow the Lions to cruise to a 70-57 win over the Grizzlies.

“We weren’t supposed to leave him open,” Grizzlies coach Travis DeCuire said. “And then we leave him open again and he makes that one.”

Garner struggled in the Lions’ first two games, but when it mattered most, he sealed the win Tuesday.

“Shep really stepped up,” Lions coach Patrick Chambers said. “Talk about a kid who hasn’t been stroking the ball the first few games and misses two free throws and then he drills two threes.”

The Grizzlies stayed within striking distance throughout the contest. For an extended period of time in the second half, their largest deficit was eight points and the closest they got was three points.

Every time Penn State was on the verge of severing the tether, the Grizzlies fought back.

The Lions never relinquished the lead, but that task became increasingly difficult in the absence of Carr. The guard returned to the sideline minutes after his injury but didn’t return to the court, despite wanting to play. Chambers noted that Carr had a high ankle sprain.

Lamar Stevens, who was Carr’s teammate at Roman Catholic high school, took over in place of star guard. The forward recorded a game-high 25 points with most of his production coming during Carr’s absence.

A scoring drought that lasted 2:30 following the injury gave Montana the window it needed. At the midpoint of the second half, the Lions were on their heels and holding on to a one-point lead, 51-50.

Garner broke the drought with a 3-pointer. The score kicked off a seven-point run as the offensive efficiency turned into defensive energy.

Even then, the Grizzlies fought their way back. It took a few more heroics from Garner to seal the victory. The senior connected on two consecutive attempts from the arc, nailing both and growing the lead from three to nine which finally give the Lions a safe advantage.

Foul trouble and poor free throw shooting was one issue that allowed Montana to stay in the game throughout the contest.

Chambers decided to sit Mike Watkins, the Lions’ best big man, for most of the first half following the forward’s early fouls. His absence allowed Montana to run the paint in the first half. The Grizzlies had a 34-32 advantage on the boards.

The result of the constatant early fouling was a more timid approach on defense, Chambers noted.

“Guys just want to stay in the game,” Stevens said. “As we keep maturing, that’s going to change.”

The Lions were also a measly 14-24 from the free throw line, which prevented them from capitalizing on Montana’s aggressive defense.

Montana was comfortable in the underdog role after topping Pittsburgh on Monday, led by guard Michael Oguine’s career high 29-points. Against the Lions Oguine was held to 15 points.

“It’s great to get tested this early in the season,” Garner said. “I’m glad that we stepped up because our brother went down.”

The Lions will host Columbia on Friday at 7 p.m.

MONTANA (2-1): Krslovic 2-2 2-2 6, Akoh 3-8 4-8 11, Rorie 7-18 0-0 16, Moorehead 1-4 0-0 2, Oguine 6-15 1-5 15, Nicholas 1-2 0-0 2, Bevens 0-0 0-0 0, Pridgett 2-6 0-0 5, Falls 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 7-15 57.

PENN STATE (3-0): Stevens 8-14 8-9 25, Watkins 3-4 2-2 8, Reaves 4-6 4-8 12, Garner 4-7 0-2 12, Carr 3-9 0-0 7, Moore 1-2 0-0 2, Pierce 1-3 0-0 2, Bostick 1-4 0-1 2, Wheeler 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 25-50 14-24 70.

Halftime–Penn St. 34-29. 3-Point Goals–Montana 6-21 (Oguine 2-5, Rorie 2-9, Pridgett 1-1, Akoh 1-2, Falls 0-1, Moorehead 0-3), Penn St. 6-12 (Garner 4-7, Carr 1-1, Stevens 1-2, Reaves 0-2). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Montana 32 (Krslovic, Oguine 7), Penn St. 30 (Stevens 7). Assists–Montana 9 (Rorie 4), Penn St. 12 (Garner, Wheeler 3). Total Fouls–Montana 22, Penn St. 15. A–5,854 (15,261).