The Penn State men’s basketball team executed with machine-like efficiency to turn the game into a rout.
The Nittany Lions got into the lane to set up open 3-pointers and easy dunks. They knocked down their long-range attempts and connected on midrange jumpers. They even got a floater to fall on the final play of the first half to a cap dominant stretch.
Penn State outscored St. John’s by 30 in the final nine minutes of the first half and rolled to a 92-76 win over the Red Storm in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Shep Garner scored 21 points to pace five Penn State players in double figures. Payton Banks finished with 17 points, and Mike Watkins had 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Tony Carr and Josh Reaves each had 13.
Garner hit six 3-pointers and Banks had five to lead Penn State’s 13 for 23 effort from beyond the arc.
“We had three practices for the first time in a very, very long time and I thought that was very noticeable for the first twenty minutes, for sure,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “We look like ourselves again. We competed. We played hard. And it’s nice, of course, to make so many 3s. That always helps.”
The Nittany Lions (7-5) hit 12 of their final 16 shots (75 percent) in the first half to take a 23-point lead into the break. Penn State went 9 for 14 from beyond the arc and finished with 11 assists in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought they were getting middle penetration which we work on, we preach and we gave them the ultimate confidence,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “Then they had everything going, they had the 3-ball going, I thought it was the dribble penetration to the middle that broke our defense down.”
St. John’s (5-7), meanwhile, went without a field goal for the final 9:47 of the first half.
The Nittany Lions trailed 24-17 before they started to take over with less than nine minutes to go in the first half.
Garner ran off a screen and drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to bring Penn State within three. Carr then penetrated and found Banks for an open 3 to tie the game. The Nittany Lions’ 7-0 run turned into a 15-1 run after back-to-back 3s by Banks and Garner.
Reaves left off a pass for a two-handed dunk by Watkins on the team’s next possession, and Banks later set Watkins up for another slam to extend the run to 22-1.
The Nittany Lions’ 12-point lead continued to grow in the final four minutes of the half.
Carr finished it off with a floater as time ran out to complete a 35-5 run and send his team into the break with a 52-29 lead.
“We’ve been working on our habits all week so, a lot of our good habits were shown in that run,” Garner said. “That was a pivotal part of the game and that got us the lead.”
Penn State hosts Morgan State at 5 p.m. Wednesday in its final nonconference game.