Shep Garner and Geno Thorpe sat side-by-side after helping Penn State edge Duquesne for its seventh straight win Wednesday night.
The Nittany Lions came out with a 64-62 victory, their third straight win by four or fewer points. During the seven-game winning streak, Penn State’s largest margin of victory was eight points and the other six were each decided by six or fewer points.
Three games, including Wednesday’s, came down to a last-second shot.
After another tense finish, Garner calmly answered a question about the Nittany Lions’ run of close calls.
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“I think these close games are helping us be more comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” Garner said. “So when we get in games like that, we don’t panic, we just tough it out, find ways to win.”
“Retweet,” Thorpe said following Garner’s answer.
Garner could only smile and drop his head at Thorpe’s unexpected response, but the freshman guard hit on the key to Penn State’s success in his concise summary. The Nittany Lions have been in close games night in and night out, but they’ve never lost control when their opponents have made runs and they’ve come out on top.
It’s why Penn State (9-1) is off to its best start since 2000-01.
“I think that’s why you see nine wins as opposed to 5-4,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions are looking to build on their strong start heading into their matchup with George Washington (6-2) at noon on Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Colonials are riding a three-game winning streak that includes victories over Charlotte and DePaul.
Chambers wants to see his team develop a “killer instinct.”
Penn State has built comfortable leads in the second half throughout its streak, only to see its opponent respond with a run to quickly erase it.
Against Bucknell, the Nittany Lions led by 10 in the second half before the Bison came back to tie it with more than six minutes to play. Against Virginia Tech, PSU went up by nine after the break but the Hokies were a last-second 3-pointer away from forcing overtime.
Marshall trailed by 11 with more than four minutes left, but the Thundering Herd forced the Nittany Lions to survive a one-possession game throughout the final 60 seconds.
And Penn State saw a 10-point second half lead disappear against the Dukes, who missed what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“Once you have somebody down, you got to bury them,” Chambers said. “And we’re just not there yet with that. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the team that I’m waiting to see and we haven’t done it for three and a half years now.
“So we’re winning, that’s a good thing, but now we got to learn how to be dominant and put teams away.”
Chambers pointed to extending runs after taking control.
The Nittany Lions outscored the Dukes 11-2 in the first four minutes of the second half to go up 40-30.
Duquesne scored on the ensuing possession each time Penn State went up by 10 before slicing into the lead.
Chambers said his team needs to get a stop in those situations.
“I want consistent effort,” Chambers said. “We’re striving for greatness. That’s why I said last week there’s a better team within this team. We just haven’t seen it yet. And I need to bring it out. It’s my job to bring it out.”
In the final minutes, though, Penn State has done enough to win.
The Nittany Lions made the plays to edge Virginia Tech and Marshall by three and four points, respectively. They then knocked down free throws and buckled down defensively with the game on the line to beat Duquesne.
After losing eight close games last year, Penn State has won all six games decided by six or fewer points this year.
“For three years, we haven’t won the close games,” Chambers said. “We won a few last year. I think we learned how to win them and now we’re taking the experience from last year and we’re utilizing it this year.”
Notes: Penn State and George Washington will play for the first time since the Colonials won 71-57 in the 1991 Palm Beach Classic. The schools were also Atlantic 10 Conference rivals. The Nittany Lions won their last meeting as league foes, beating the Colonials 81-75 in the 1991 A-10 championship game. Penn State leads the series between the schools 18-11. ... George Washington was picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll. The Colonials went 24-9 last season and lost to Memphis 71-66 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.