STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With the game on the line and the clocking ticking down, Penn State's Tony Carr managed to somehow make the perfect read to an open Josh Reaves who made a hard cut and delivered a powerful dunk to send Penn State's bench to their feet.
"I just noticed my man wasn't looking at me so I took advantage of that," Reaves said in an interview with reporters at Madison Square Garden. "And Tony just shows how much of a great player he is to find an open man in a time like that. I was just fortunate enough to make the dunk."
Carr, the unquestioned sophomore star of this Penn State team, played out of his mind yet again, as Reaves' bucket put Penn State up one with 2.8 seconds remaining as they held on to down second-seeded Ohio State 69-68. The win keeps the seventh-seeded Nittany Lions (21-12) marching through to the Big Ten Tournament's semifinals, punching their ticket Saturday's 4:30 p.m. game where they'll play third-seeded Purdue. It's Penn State's first trip to the semifinals since 2011 when they advanced to the championship game.
And, more importantly, that victory -- their third this season against Ohio State (24-8) -- just might've been enough for Penn State's on again, off again dreams of playing in the NCAA Tournament to potentially become a reality.
"Man, we just want to take advantage of these opportunities," Carr said in an interview with the Big Ten Network. He scored 25 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. "We're out there just playing basketball and we don't try to put too much pressure on ourselves trying to win every game but we're just trying to put our best foot forward. ... It's what we want."
And this win is exactly what Penn State had to have.
Playing without big man Mike Watkins, who was ruled out for the entire tournament with a knee injury sustained during the Lions' loss last week to Michigan, it should make this victory even more compelling as the committee looks at Penn State's resume. While Watkins' availability beyond this tournament is unknown, this Penn State team proved it can win without him, something that seemed like a long shot as the Lions' critical four-game stretch to end the season resulted in them going 1-3.
Lamar Stevens had 15 points and 7 rebounds to go along with Shep Garner's 13 points. John Harrar grabbed six rebounds while playing 11 minutes, both career highs.
"(It's) next man up. Mike is a big part of our team but we've got to pick him up," Carr said.
Penn State's winning basket was set up by a steal from the senior Garner that with 19 seconds left gave way for Carr to deliver some last-second dramatics. This season against the Buckeyes it was Carr who posted 28 points during the Jan. 25 upset in Columbus -- including the game-winning 3-pointer -- and he scored another 30 points on Feb. 15 when the Lions pulled out the victory in the Bryce Jordan Center. His 25 points Friday night at Madison Square Garden continued his growing legacy and delivered more March Madness hope to a program that hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 2011.
ESPN College basketball expert Andy Katz pointed out afterward that the Nittany Lions should keep Watkins' injury status close to the vest here as whether or not he'd be available for a potential NCAA Tournament bid could have an impact on how the selection committee looks at this team.
The Lions nearly beat Purdue two weeks ago with Watkins limited for most of the game because of foul trouble and at various points this season Penn State looked like a team that could hang with just about anyone. Whether or not they can sustain is another story -- and it's one that's likely tied to Watkins, who hobbled around Madison Square Garden. But, securing wins against Northwestern and Ohio State on back-to-back nights is a strong start for what could be a memorable March for Pat Chambers' team.
And, history might just be on Penn State's side. According to ESPN's Stats and Info, Penn State is just the seventh team to beat the same ranked opponent three times in the same season and to do so all three times as an unranked team. All of the six previous teams made the NCAA Tournament.
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