Penn State Coach: I'm Happy We Get To Play One More Day

The Nittany Lions will play Utah for the NIT Championship Thursday

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March 28, 2018 - 8:33 am

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Penn State didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament this year, but if the NIT is any indication, that was a mistake. The Nittany Lions (25-13) have defeated Temple, Notre Dame, Marquette and Mississippi State to advance to the NIT championship. They play Utah (23-11) on Thursday at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m. ET.

“The guys are playing with a lot of confidence,” Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers said on Ferrall on the Bench. “The staff is doing a great job, the players are completely bought in. I was totally worried about the week off in between Marquette and this game, Mississippi State, but our guys stayed dialed in, and that’s tough to do when you’re an 18-to-23-year-old. But it always goes to the defensive end. Our identity is defend and rebound.”

And score. Penn State beat Mississippi State, 75-60, on Tuesday, thanks to a game-high 21 points from sophomore Tony Carr and 18 from senior Shep Garner. That duo combined to shoot 9-of-15 from three, including 6-of-9 from Garner, who holds the school record for three-pointers made.

“His leadership has been outstanding,” Chambers said. “He will not let this team relax for one second. He’s been all over them. The goal is to get to Thursday night, and then we’ll see what we can do.”

Penn State went 21-13 during the season, beat Ohio State three times, and advanced to the Big Ten semifinals, ultimately losing to Purdue. The Nittany Lions were hoping for an at-large bid, but it didn’t happen.

Still, Chambers is thrilled to be playing in the NIT.

“I have so much respect for this tournament,” he said. “I think it’s a classic tournament from back in the day with so much rich tradition and history. A lot of teams who get to the Final Four really utilize this to be able to get better. I think that’s what we’re doing. This is going to be a springboard for us into next year, which will be really exciting. It’s such an honor to play in the NIT and then to get to play against a great Pac-12 team and a great coach in Larry (Krystkowiak). It’s going to be a difficult game, but I’m happy we get to play one more day.”

Utah defeated UC Davis, LSU, Saint Mary’s and Western Kentucky to advance to the final.

Penn State last won the NIT in 2009.