Nittany Lions pass first postseason test

Carr fires in 25

Penn State had limited options as it faced Northwestern.

Throughout the game, it boiled down to two: either continue to make improbable 3-pointers or leave Madison Square Garden without a win in the Big Ten tournament. They chose the former.

“I always think positive thoughts,” Tony Carr, who led all scorers with 25 points, said. “Positive thoughts, positive outcomes.”

With less than four minutes left, the Lions made three consecutive 3-pointers and shut down the Wildcats’ offense to turn a two-point deficit into a respectable victory on Thursday night, 65-57.

Chambers gave his players the green light on the perimeter, and it paid off. The Lions finished with 13 3-pointers.

“Because you give them that freedom and that confidence,” Chambers said, “shots are going to go in.”

Mike Watkins was sidelined due to a knee injury. Chambers traded playing time between John Harrar, Julian Moore and Satchel Pierce. The trio combined for two points and six rebounds.

Coach Chris Collins decided to play two big men in Dererk Pardon and Barret Benson for most of the contest. Pardon had little trouble in the paint, scoring a team-high 14 points and Benson was 4-of-5 from the field.

“I noticed that his size was a factor in the game, especially when he was with Dererk,” Collins said of Benson. “Especially with Watkins not playing, I thought it would give us a chance to cause some problems for them.”

Coach Patrick Chambers noted that his team was determined to overcome the “noise” that surrounded the team after losing Watkins.

“The noise is ‘Can you win without Mike?'” Chambers said. “The naysayers thought we were slumping and lost our confidence and not sure if we could do it. And we believed in ourselves.”

But the Lions weren’t the only ones missing a key talent. Northwestern’s Vic Law also had an injury that landed him on the bench.

The Lions don’t have an interior talent that can replace Watkins, forcing the guards to compensate. Josh Reaves, who made a series of crucial shots down the stretch, led the Lions with eight rebounds.

The Penn State offense stalled with eight minutes left in the first half. The Lions made only one of their next ten shots. The five minute period where the Lions didn’t make a shot from the field gave the Wildcats 27-20 lead.

The Wildcats had a dense defensive scheme, forcing the Lions to take outside shots and reducing the success of attempts from the paint.

“We knew we would have to make a couple shots,” Shep Garner, who was 4-9 from the field (all attempts came from behind the arc) said. “They stayed in the zone. They stayed in it and made it tough on us.”

Garner nailed a 3-pointer to spark a run for the Lions. Following a classic Josh-Reaves-breakaway dunk, Carr added his fourth 3-pointer of the first half. The late scoring spree, coupled with a stall in the Wildcats’ offense, the Nittany Lions tied the game 30-30 before the halftime break.

The Lions stuck to the perimeter after halftime, and the results were promising. Garner made two 3-pointers to go with a deep shot from Reaves.

But the Lions couldn’t remedy all of their offensive issues from the perimeter. Eventually, the reality of Watkins’s absence was clear again. Penn State went to another scoring drought as Northwestern closed the gap 39-37.

Within minutes, the Wildcats took the lead and the momentum. Because of lackluster shooting, neither team could make separation.

With just over three minutes left and a 1-point lead, the Lions started their run. Carr, who didn’t score for the first ten minutes of the half, took control again.

“He obviously knew it was winning time and stepped up,” Bryant McIntosh, who made 3-of-12 from the field, said.

Northwestern scored only three points in the final four minutes as Penn State cruised to a win.

“Everybody really buckled down and got some stops,” Chambers said.

The Lions have tough test in the quarterfinals against Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ impressive interior may prove to be the Lions’ downfall tonight.