As the fans packed inside the Palestra stood and cheered for the final time, Penn State guard Shep Garner dribbled out the clock.
The Nittany Lions fans had been on their feet throughout the game after watching their team come out sharp and go into halftime with a 12-point lead. They roared after 3-pointers and defensive stops and critical plays down the stretch. And they were on their feet again while the final 15-plus seconds ticked away to cap Penn State’s 72-63 win over Michigan State on Saturday afternoon.
Penn State fed off the crowd’s energy at the historic gym and earned its first win over the Spartans since 2011.
“There’s something really magical about this place, very near and dear to my heart and I will not forget this day for a long time,” Penn State coach and Philadelphia-area native Patrick Chambers said.
Lamar Stevens finished with a game-high 18 points and six rebounds, and Tony Carr added 14 points and six rebounds for the Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten). Payton Banks and Mike Watkins each had 11 points.
Chambers called the game a “magical experience” and added his players will never forget the trip. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was appreciative of the opportunity to bring his team to the building known as “The Cathedral of College Basketball,” which opened in 1927. Banners hang outside celebrating 90 years of the Palestra, and photos illustrating the history of the Big 5 can be seen in the halls.
Izzo said the experience was “every bit as good as everybody told me,” but the Spartans (11-6, 3-1) didn’t match Penn State’s intensity in front of a crowd of 8,722.
“My apologies to this magnificent facility,” Izzo said. “I loved the experience. ... I appreciated everything about it, except I feel like we cheated those of you that have seen great teams and great coaches and great players play here. You got robbed today by a team in green.”
Stevens and Carr, both graduates of the city’s Roman Catholic High School, ensured Penn State maintained a double-digit lead at the break. After Michigan State went on a 7-0 run to pull within 37-32 and Penn State big man Julian Moore went to the bench with his third foul with 1:56 left in the half, Stevens went to work.
He swished a jumper and finished in the paint to extend his team’s lead to nine points, and Carr knocked down a 3-pointer to give Penn State a 44-32 lead at halftime.
The Nittany Lions shot 60 percent from the field to take control in the first 20 minutes.
“I’m embarrassed that in a city where basketball is like this, that my team would play like they did that first half,” Izzo said. “We guarded nobody. We played with no energy and I was totally frustrated with the way we played.”
The Spartans made runs in the second half, pulling within five points twice and within six two more times.
But the Nittany Lions held them off to close out the win.
When Michigan State cut the deficit to six the second time, with more than three minutes to go, the crowd came to life as Penn State worked to get a stop. The Michigan State possession ended with a missed jumper by Alvin Ellis III.
Carr then hit a tough floater to make it 63-55, and Josh Reaves snared a pass for a steal to bring the Palestra crowd to its feet again with Nittany Lions on their way to a victory.
“Having the building packed like that, it’s special every time,” Stevens said. “... It was special today. It’s a great environment.”
Notes: Garner reached the 1,000-point mark for his career Saturday. Garner had eight points against Michigan State. ... Penn State finished with 18 assists and 13 turnovers. Michigan State had 11 assists and 17 turnovers. ... Reaves led Penn State with six assists to go with two steals and two blocks. ... Nick Ward led Michigan State with 16 points. Miles Bridges was limited to four points and six rebounds in 27 minutes. ... Penn State hosts Minnesota at noon next Saturday.