NEW YORK — Penn State coach Patrick Chambers sounded like a coach who just watched his team play as well as it has all season.
“We competed. We played hard. And it’s nice, of course, to make so many 3s,” he said. “That always helps.”
Shep Garner scored 21 points and was 6 for 9 from 3-point range to lead Penn State to a 92-76 victory over St. John’s on Sunday in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
“If you’re not nervous coming into this game, to be playing at the Garden, there’s something wrong with you,” Chambers said. “I get butterflies. I get jacked up. I can’t wait to walk on the floor.”
The Nittany Lions (7-5) took control early by closing the first half on a 35-5 run for a 52-29 lead. Garner had two 3s early in the surge as St. John’s (5-7) didn’t have a field goal over the final 9:45, missing 10 shots from the field and committing six turnovers.
Garner’s effort from beyond the 3-point arc was part of Penn State shooting 13 for 23 from long range (56.5 percent), well above the 33 percent it was hitting this season.
Payton Banks had 17 points and was 5 of 9 on 3s for Penn State, which won its third straight. Mike Watkins had 15 points and 13 rebounds and Josh Reaves and Tony Reaves added 13 points each for the Nittany Lions.
“When Mike brings that juice, that energy and passion, he’s protecting the paint and the rim for us,” Chambers said. “He gets us going and gets us out on the break for easy baskets and uncontested shots.”
Malik Ellison led the Red Storm with 22 points while Shamorie Ponds added 12 and Tariq Owens had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“We had a lack of energy at a certain point in the first half and we just dug ourselves in a huge hole,” Ellison said.
Owens echoed Ellison’s comments.
“Early on we came out playing well and then just had a mental lapse,” Owens said. “Total effort in the first half, as a complete unit we didn’t bring it as a team, so we had to change some things at half and adjust our effort.”
Second-year coach Chris Mullin hopes his team can gain something from the game.
“I was telling them after the game not only do you hate to lose and you’re embarrassed and all those emotions, but what you really have to do is learn from this,” Mullin said.
Penn State: Two of the Nittany Lions’ losses have been to ranked teams — No. 1 Duke and No. 25 Cincinnati. … Penn State is the 18th least-experienced team in the nation but the Nittany Lions seem like gray beards compared to St. John’s which is the ninth least-experienced team in the country.
St. John’s: This was the Red Storm’s 50th appearance in the Holiday Festival and they came in with a 73-58 record including a six-game winning streak. … Kassoum Yakwe and Owens are the leading shot-blocking duo in the country. They came into the game with a combined 63 blocks. They both had one Sunday… This was St. John’s third straight game in a different New York City borough. They played Fordham in Queens, LIU Brooklyn in Brooklyn and Penn State in Manhattan.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions host Morgan State on Wednesday, then open Big Ten play at home on Dec. 27 against Northwestern.
St. John’s: The Red Storm are at Syracuse on Wednesday, then open Big East play at home against No. 18 Butler.