In the hallway outside the Penn State locker room at Madison Square Garden, coach Patrick Chambers held up the piece of net he cut down during the NIT championship postgame celebration Thursday night.
As Chambers climbed the ladder, he was thinking about his days at Boston University and Villanova. He was part of Villanova’s run to the Final Four in 2009 as an assistant coach and led BU to a conference title as the head coach before arriving at Penn State in 2011.
In his seventh season at Happy Valley, Chambers got to celebrate winning a championship with the Nittany Lions, who beat Utah 82-66 in the NIT championship game.
“I have some in my case in my office,” Chambers said, referring to the net, “and now I can add a Penn State one instead of just Villanova and BU, so that’s pretty special.”
The Nittany Lions soaked in the postgame celebration Thursday night after blowing out Utah two days after cruising past Mississippi State in the semifinals. Penn State captured the title with one senior in its starting lineup and two seniors on the roster.
With so much young talent, the Nittany Lions are already looking to build on the NIT title and reach the NCAA tournament next season.
Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens was named the Most Outstanding Player in the NIT after scoring a game-high 28 points Thursday night. Freshman John Harrar, sophomore Tony Carr and junior Josh Reaves all played crucial roles during the NIT run with Mike Watkins sidelined. Carr, who had 15 points and 14 assists Thursday, said he’ll take a week to make a decision on whether to leave for the NBA or return to school.
Julian Moore, one of the team’s seniors, sat in the locker room with the NIT trophy next to him. The veteran forward said he was loving every minute of the experience. He recalled committing to a program that wasn’t relevant in college basketball. “I think we’ve shown incredible growth and changed this program,” Moore said. “We were always a football school and now we’re starting to change it.”
The Nittany Lions showed that throughout the season with three wins over Ohio State. They made a run to the Big Ten tournament semifinals and became a bubble team for the NCAA tournament at the end of the year. Though they were disappointed to miss out, they closed out the season on a high note with the NIT championship.
They wore their white NIT champions T-shirts with pride and smiled throughout the postgame celebration. One by one, they each climbed the ladder to cut down the nets until the head coach took his turn. He climbed the ladder and turned to thank the fans who came out to support the team at Madison Square Garden. And after cutting his piece of the net, he embraced his other senior, Shep Garner.
Garner then took the rest of the net out of the rim and raised it to the crowd. The Nittany Lions were the 2018 NIT champions — with a bright future for next season.
“We got a lot of good guys coming back, so I’m excited about the possibilities of being a top-level team in the Big Ten,” Chambers said. “That’s the goal.”