Penn State’s core of four Philadelphia area natives led the way in a 76-67 overtime victory against Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten tournament Wednesday.
Mike Watkins dominated at both ends of the floor for the No. 13-seed Nittany Lions, scoring a team-high 18 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and setting a conference-tournament record with eight blocks. Shep Garner scored seven of his 16 points in the extra period to seal the win, and Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr finished with 16 points and 11 points, respectively.
The Nittany Lions (15-17) will take on No. 5-seed Michigan State in the second round at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Verizon Center.
Garner finished 4 for 7 from beyond the arc to lead a 7 for 18 performance by Penn State.
“That experience of playing in the Big Ten these last couple years really shined through today,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers told The Associated Press. “He gutted it out, for sure.”
Carr also had nine rebounds and six assists, and Stevens finished with five rebounds for the Nittany Lions, who snapped a five-game losing streak. Penn State also went 21 for 26 from the foul line.
Evan Taylor led the No. 12 seed Cornhuskers (12-19) with 15 points. Nebraska shot 34.2 percent from the field, thanks in part to Watkins’ defensive effort inside.
“We just couldn’t get anything going at the rim,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “That hurt us.”
Penn State never trailed in the game and led by double digits in both the first and second half.
But Nebraska remained within striking distance and rallied late in the second half to force overtime.
With 11:02 left in the second half, the Nittany Lions pushed their lead to 51-41 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Garner and a free throw by Terrence Samuel.
Nebraska responded, pulling within 56-55 on Tai Webster’s bucket with 1:50 to play. After a pair of free throws by Stevens, Huskers guard Glynn Watson Jr. hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 55 seconds left.
Carr gave Penn State a 60-58 lead before Ed Morrow’s layup tied it with 22 seconds to go.
In overtime, Stevens knocked down a 3-pointer to push Penn State ahead, and Nebraska never responded. Garner later went on a 7-0 run, hitting a 3-pointer and drilling four straight free throws to make it 72-62 with 1:09 left.
“We’ve had a lot of games this year where we get into one- and two-possession games and one point and two points and we’ve been coming up short,” Garner said. “So I felt like I had to make a play for my teammates, for my team. I wanted to do it.”