UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA — Penn State senior guard Shep Garner entered Wednesday’s first-round National Invitation Tournament game against Temple coming off a career-high scoring performance in the Big Ten Conference tournament against Purdue University.
He didn’t make his first field goal until the two-minute, 43-second mark of the fourth quarter. His 3-pointer tied the game and brought the crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center to its feet.
Garner made another 3-pointer with 1:06 left to give the Nittany Lions a five-point lead on the way to a 63-57 win.
Penn State (22-13, 9-9 Big Ten) advances to face top-seeded University of Notre Dame. Temple’s (17-16, 8-10 American Athletic Conference) season is over.
“We played 36 minutes of basketball, but unfortunately the games are 40 minutes,” redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown said. “It was an up-and-down season, but I think everyone gave it their all, from the coaching staff to managers to grad assistants to the players. And it just didn’t work out our way.”
Temple led for more than 35 minutes. The Owls held Penn State’s leading scorer sophomore guard Tony Carr, who is projected by Sports Illustrated as a 2018 NBA Draft pick, to two points on 1-for-12 shooting from the field in 37 minutes.
“They were loaded up,” Carr said. “They were double-teaming, staying on the ball screens until I passed it. If I had it on the wing, it was my man and two other defenders around. …You could tell their game plan was to stop me.”
But the Owls didn’t score from the 3:56-mark until sophomore guard Quinton Rose’s 3-pointer with 8.8 seconds left. They scored nine points in the fourth quarter and shot 1-for-7 from the field in the final 3:56.
Penn State closed the game on a 15-3 run in the final 3:24, shooting 4-for-4 from the field. They won a game for the first time this season after trailing at halftime.
“Their intensity went up, and we should have stayed with them in terms of intensity level,” senior forward Obi Enechionyia said. “When they did that, they got some open looks that we shouldn’t have let happen and we did and they were able to knock it down. So they did a good job of taking advantage of how we were kind of settling and letting them back into the game. They did a good job themselves, just doing that.”
With 40.3 seconds left in the third quarter, Penn State hadn’t made a field-goal attempt in the past four minutes.
Despite that, the Nittany Lions cut Temple’s game-high 11-point lead with 3:50 left in the quarter to four points. They made 11 free throws in the final 3:02 of the period. Carr sat on the bench throughout the Nittany Lions’ 11-4 run.
Carr didn’t score in the first three quarters. Temple held Garner, who scored 33 points in the Big Ten tournament semifinals against Purdue University, to two points and no made field goals through three quarters.
Junior guard Josh Reaves, who entered play averaging 10.1 points per game, kept Penn State close with a season-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including four made 3-pointers. He had a double-double with 11 rebounds.
“Every night is not going to be me my night,” Carr said. “Every night is not going to be Shep’s night, and tonight it was Josh’s night. He stepped up made some big shots. He basically just led us to the win.”
Temple shot 9-for-16 in the third quarter, while the Nittany Lions shot 3-for-10. But Penn State’s 14-for-17 mark at the free-throw line kept the team in the game.
Penn State didn’t attempt any free throws in the first quarter, but it finished the night with 30 attempts.
“We expected their three leading scorers to be aggressive coming out of the half because they really didn’t score that well and they really weren’t getting to the line,” freshman forward De’Vondre Perry said. “So we expected them to get to the line to get to the line to get going.”
Redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown scored 14 points on 50 percent shooting in his final college game. Two other players — junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. and sophomore guard Quinton Rose — finished in double figures. Sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
Enechionyia left the court for the last time with 36 seconds left after he fouled out of the game. He scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots.
He reflected on his career and his final season as he watched the end of the game from the bench.
“I think we all know we could have done better this season,” Enechionyia said. “We all know we should have been in the NCAA Tournament had we played as well as we should have and could have. Someone asked me if I thought the season was a failure. I would not say that. We all worked as hard as we could. We all left everything. We just weren’t able to pull it out, but that happens, you know. I’ve been on four great teams since I’ve been here. Obviously, the results the past two years haven’t been great, but that doesn’t change how much I’ve enjoyed it.”