With plenty of time left for Illinois to continue its comeback, Penn State’s Shep Garner made a play.
Payton Banks switched onto Illinois guard Jalen Coleman-Lands off a screen, leaving Garner on 6-foot-6 forward Kipper Nichols in the paint as Te’Jon Lucas started to drive to the basket. Garner stepped up and absorbed the contact from Lucas to take a charge, keeping the Nittany Lions’ five-point lead intact and giving his team possession with 22.1 seconds left.
Illinois scored on its next possession to cut the deficit to three points, but the Fighting Illini were running out of time — there were 9.5 seconds left.
Garner’s play on the defensive end helped the Nittany Lions maintain control down the stretch in their win over Illinois last Saturday.
“I don’t sit, but I would have jumped out of my seat. Big play,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said after the win. “That’s a leadership-type of play. That’s a gutsy, tough basketball play that we need at that juncture.”
Garner led the team with 18 points against Illinois, a season-high in Big Ten play this season. The junior went into the game averaging 8.0 points in eight conference games after leading the team in scoring during nonconference play with 14.6 points per game.
Garner will lead Penn State (12-10, 4-5) into its game at Indiana (14-8, 4-5) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The guard found his stroke from 3-point range in the team’s last two games.
After shooting 25 percent from beyond the arc in the first seven conference games, he shot 7 for 14 against Wisconsin and Illinois.
Garner admitted he felt a little frustrated during the slump.
“I’ve definitely gotten in the gym more over the past week,” Garner said.
The extra work paid off.
In the first half of the win over Illinois, he combined with Banks to power Penn State offensively.
Banks went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc and scored 14 points at the break, while Garner was 3 for 6 from long range and had 11 points to help the Nittany Lions build a 45-25 lead.
“When we’re hitting shots, the defense has to try to contain 0 and 33 and then the Red Sea opens,” Garner said, referencing their jersey numbers. “So when we’re on, we’re tough to guard.”
Garner then sealed the win in the second half.
He hit a pair of free throws to give the Nittany Lions ahead 67-62 before taking the charge on the next possession.
And he pushed the lead back to five points with two more free throws with 8.7 seconds left.
“That shows where his head is right now, his mindset,” Chambers said. “And I think we see an emerging leader. He’s definitely back.”
Notes: James Blackmon Jr. will be out for Wednesday’s game, according to a report Tuesday by the Indianapolis Star. Blackmon Jr. is Indiana’s leading scorer (17.6 points per game). ... Indiana beat Penn State 78-75 on Jan. 18. Penn State’s Tony Carr scored a career-high 24 points in that game. Blackmon Jr., Thomas Bryant and Robert Johnson all scored 17 for the Hoosiers. ... Penn State’s Josh Reaves leads the Big Ten in steals with 2.4 per game.
Penn State at Indiana
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
Radio: WQWK 1450