WASHINGTON (AP) — With his cousin rapper Flavor Flav cheering loudly from the third row, Shep Garner scored seven of Penn State’s 16 points in overtime Wednesday, leading the Nittany Lions to a 76-67 victory over Nebraska in the opening game of the first Big Ten Tournament to be held in the nation’s capital.
Penn State (15-17) never trailed and ended a five-game losing streak.
The 13th-seeded Nittany Lions advanced to face Michigan State in the second round.
Garner finished with 16 points, and freshman Mike Watkins had 18 points, 11 rebounds and a Big Ten Tournament-record eight blocked shots.
Evan Taylor led 12th-seeded Nebraska (12-19) with 15 points. But the Cornhuskers’ top scorer, senior guard Tai Webster, shot 4 for 16 and fouled out in OT with 12 points, only two after halftime.
Nebraska made only 34 percent of its shots.
Penn State led by 11 in the first half before Nebraska pulled even at 30-all. Then Penn State went up by 10 midway through the second half, but Nebraska again chipped away.
In overtime, though, the Nittany Lions were led by Garner. The junior guard hit a 3 at the shot-clock buzzer with a little under 2½ minutes remaining then made two foul shots with 80 seconds to go. Right before those free throws, Flavor Flav — a member of Public Enemy, then a reality TV personality — stood and yelled, “Make this count!”
Wearing a backward green Yankees baseball hat and his signature alarm clock around his neck, Flavor Flav stood out among the thousands of empty blue seats at the arena used by the NBA’s Wizards, NHL’s Capitals and other teams. The sparseness of the opening-game crowd should come as no surprise.
First of all, this certainly is not traditional territory for the typically Midwestern conference, which only recently added nearby Maryland to the fold — thereby helping raise an already inflated league membership to a total of four more teams than its name implies.
The two schools facing each other to get the 2017 edition of the tourney started, Nebraska and Penn State, were added via earlier expansion. Neither is known for its basketball prowess as much as its football success, nor is either geographically similar to conference old-timers such as Michigan, Indiana and Iowa.
And both entered Wednesday on real downswings.
Nebraska had dropped four in a row, none by fewer than 15 points and the most recent by 36 — yes, 36! — against Michigan, a 93-57 defeat on Sunday that was the most lopsided in a home game in the Cornhuskers’ basketball history.
Penn State: Coach Patrick Chambers got a vote of confidence from AD Sandy Barbour over the weekend, but the Nittany Lions haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, before Chambers was in charge.
Nebraska: The AD tweeted that coach Tim Miles will be back, despite the team’s collapse this season. After a 3-0 start in Big Ten play — their best conference start in 41 years — the Huskers lost 13 of 16 the rest of the way.
Penn State: Plays Thursday against No. 5 seed Michigan State, winner of a record five Big Ten conference tournament titles. Penn State beat the Spartans 72-63 on Jan. 7 at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
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