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Garner’s 33 not enough, Nittany Lions out in Big Ten semis

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Shep Garner drives during the Lions' loss to the Boilermakers. - PENN STATE ATHLETICS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Within the final 45 seconds of the first half all of Penn State's momentum was swept away as Purdue scored seven unanswered points and erased a five-point lead that the Nittany Lions hoped to build off of.

A technical foul from Pat Chambers was part of the critical swing as Penn State's Big Ten Tournament run ended in the semifinals as the seventh-seeded Lions (21-13) were bounced out of the tournament at Madison Square Garden by the third-seeded Boilermakers (28-5), 78-70.

"They were very physical. Obviously that's why I felt like I needed to get T'ed up, my first T in a long, long time," Chambers told reporters in New York. "But they were playing (Tony Carr) very tough and very physical. And I was hoping that would help him out a little bit, and it did. It did early in the second half. But they shot really well."

Penn State's fourth semifinal appearance since 1998 looked like it would at least come down to the wire until Purdue blew the doors off the Lions' upset bid, storming off to a strong start to the second half that proved too much for the spent Lions to overcome. The Boilermakers led by double digits for much of the second half.

Penn State, despite a 13-3 run in a back-and-forth first half, looked like a worn-down team that was playing their third game in as many days. Purdue's Carsen Edwards' 27 points and a strong showing from big man Isaac Haas, who fouled out with 17 points and seven rebounds when he exited with 3:34 left in the game, were a force for a Penn State team that couldn't overcome an off night from Carr.

Carr's 12 points came on 4-of-18 shooting and resulted in his lowest outing of the tournament. The Big Ten's leading scorer -- who already surpassed 1,000 points during his two years in Happy Valley -- couldn't carry the load for the third consecutive night. While Carr did have nine rebounds and four assists, senior Shep Garner played his best game when it mattered most.

Garner scored a career-high 33 points, including a 3-pointer at the end of the game that helped him achieve the personal milestone. Garner, who had the critical steal Friday night that led to the Lions' upset against Ohio State, went 6-of-8 from beyond the arc against Purdue. The Lions also got 14 points and six rebounds from sophomore Lamar Stevens.

"I knew I didn't want this to be my last game tonight," Garner said. "And I told my teammates, you know, I'll give it everything I've got to get this win. I gave it everything I had out there. I left it all out there on the court. And I was filled with emotion because I didn't want to lose. I didn't want to lose, our whole team felt the same way. It was just a tough night for us."

Penn State could've used Mike Watkins to bang around with the Boilermakers' big boys, but instead all he could do was watch from the side. Watkins played just 14 minutes during the Lions' three final regular season games -- including missing the entirety of the regular season finale -- was ruled out for the tournament due to a knee injury sustained during the team’s loss to Michigan late last month. Watkins' potential availability moving forward is unknown.

The Lions will now play the waiting game ahead of next Sunday's NCAA Tournament selection show, vying for a bid to the tournament that would be the program's first since 2011. However, at this point, the Lions likely will be on the outside looking in as a win Saturday night would've made them close to a lock but without it their three victories against Ohio State might not carry enough weight and could make the Lions a highly-seeded NIT team instead.

However, Chambers was much more optimistic about his team's NCAA Tournament chance.

"I'm an optimist, very positive," he said. "You can ask all the Big Ten coaches that we played over the last month. Nobody's going to want to see us in the NCAA Tournament. We have NCAA Tournament talent.And I think the administration's going to see that. The teams that we've come up a little short with has been Purdue twice. We've played some really, really good teams. And on the road. So I believe we're going to be in."

Earlier in the day at Madison Square Garden fifth-seeded Michigan beat Michigan State 75-64 to advance to Sunday's championship game. The Boilermakers will look for their second Big Ten Tournament victory since it began in 1998 while Michigan looks to repeat last year's tournament title.

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