A little Shep went a long way when Penn State faced Louisiana-Monroe at Rec Hall Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore guard Shep Garner scored all eight of his points in the final 8:48 of the game as the Nittany Lions rallied to beat the Warhawks, 54-50. Included were two conventional three-point plays, one that gave PSU the lead for good and the other a circus shot that drew oohs from the crowd.
The aggressive ULM defense held Garner to just seven shots (he made three) and an 0-of-3 showing from the arc. But he produced when it mattered.
“He stepped up big time,” said senior forward and captain Brandon Taylor, who led the Lions with 16 points and seven rebounds. “I remember I grabbed him in the huddle and I told him I need him, no matter what. Even if he had zero points through the whole game, I needed him to do something. He came through for all of us. That was two big-time moves and he got it done.”
Weary from playing four games in seven days — the last two at Rec Hall — Penn State (7-3) struggled offensively most of the afternoon. The Lions trailed by as many as six in the second half, even though ULM (4-4) was playing without leading scorer Majok Deng (undisclosed injury).
The Lions finished the game 18 of 55 (32.7 percent) from the floor and 3 of 20 (15 percent) from the arc.
But Garner was finally able to get them going when it mattered most. Down 37-33, his steal and score cut the lead to two. Then rookie Josh Reaves found center Jordan Dickerson for an alley-oop slam to tie it.
State was down 40-39 when Garner scored a layup and was fouled. He made the free throw with 5:25 left, and the Lions would not trail the rest of the way.
Included in the stretch run was a shot in the lane from Garner where he was falling over backward after being fouled. It banked in and he made the free throw for a 48-42 lead.
Only poor free throw shooting by PSU allowed the Warhawks to sneak within two (52-50) in the final half minute. Then Taylor made a pair of free throws and Reaves had a late block to end it.
Penn State coach Pat Chambers was thrilled that the Garner-fueled spurt to end the game began on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think Shep Garner grew up today, maturity-wise” he said. “(Saying) it’s not my day, I’m not making shots. Let me go get a stop. Let me be a great teammate and make sure we’re connected out here and let’s get stops. … He hangs in there and had a big and-one. That just tells you that we’re gonna continue to fight until the horn goes off. That’s what those guys did and that’s what Shep did.”
Taylor said the run of four games in seven days left the Lions gassed by the end of Saturday’s contest.
“We need a few days of rest,” he said. “We played a lot of basketball.”
“I’m really proud of my team,” Chambers said. “It’s been a difficult week. I put a lot on them this week — four games, exams, papers, you name it. … Probably not the best week to schedule four games. However, saying that, I think we grew up a lot.”
Penn State takes the week off for finals before heading to Drexel next Saturday and then straight to Nevada for the Las Vegas Classic (Colorado Dec. 22, SMU or Kent State Dec. 23).
PSU 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson had five of the Lions’ 12 blocks in this game. Chambers has a unique way of looking at his senior big man.
“He’s like the mother hen out there,” the coach said. “He’s protecting everybody.”
DIGGING REC HALL
Reaves got caught up in the moment when he blocked ULM guard Richard Lance’s shot with 14 seconds left. The swat was right in front of the student section, and he pumped his fist and celebrated with teammates.
“I just wanted to get there and contest the jump shot,” he said. “I was fortunate to get a hand on it. My reaction was due to being in front of the Rec Hall crowd and seeing how excited they were. It was really exciting.”
Reaves had another strong all-around game off the bench, with nine points, five rebounds and three blocks.
• Forward Travis Munnings led ULM with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
• Penn State was outrebounded 47-31 and gave up 18 offensive boards for the second straight game.
• Forward Payton Banks had 10 points, four rebounds and two assists for PSU.