NEW YORK – For a night, Madison Square Garden turned into the home of the Nittany Lions, as Penn State claimed the NIT title on Thursday in front of a crowd mostly decked in white and blue.
The Nittany Lions brought their marching band, their student section and two decks of fans, who watched their team dominate in the second half en route to a 82-66 win. It was Penn’s second title in this tournament, its first since 2009.
Ahead 43-41 in the third quarter, Penn State went on a 20-7 run to end the frame and enter the fourth quarter ahead by 15 points, with Julian Moore putting the cherry on top with a buzzer-beating dunk.
Penn State shot it at a 64 percent clip in the second half and outscored Utah by 11, displaying the offensive firepower they came with in a 75-60 win over Mississippi State in the semifinals.
The Nittany Lions were led by Lamar Stevens, who had an efficient night offensively with 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting. At 6-foot-8, Stevens was a mismatch for Utah, stretching the floor by making four of his five 3-point attempts. Stevens also claimed the NIT Most Outstanding Player award.
Josh Reaves had 18 points and Tony Carr added 15 points for the Nittany Lions.
Utah was in the game until the second half. Sedrick Barefield paced the Utes early, with consecutive triples giving Utah a 20-14 lead midway through the first quarter.
But Penn State responded with a 7-0 run to finish the quarter before opening up a double-digit cushion in the second quarter. Carr’s back-to-back jumpers put the Nittany Lions ahead 37-27, though Utah closed strong to make it a 5-point game at halftime.
It was Penn State’s first matchup against a Pac-12 team in the NIT, and the second in history between Penn State and Utah. Coincidentally, it was also at Madison Square Garden, when the Nittany Lions beat the Utes in 1971.