Irish, Nittany Lions to do some gardening

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2000

The Associated Press

State College, Pa.

Thursday, March 23, 2000

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State College, Pa. – The last time Penn State played Notre Dame, an NCAA Final Four berth was at stake. The two will meet again next week with a trip to the NIT final on the line.

The Nittany Lions beat Kent in the NIT quarterfinals 81-74 Wednesday night, and will play the Irish at Madison Square Garden next Tuesday night. Notre Dame beat BYU 64-52 Wednesday night.

In 1954, the Nittany Lions snapped the Irish’s 18-game winning streak with a 71-63 victory. Under ”Memorable Wins” in Penn State’s media guide, the game is listed as No. 2 in school history.

Notre Dame, the NIT runnerup in 1992, wants to shake off this year’s NCAA tournament snub. Penn State just wants to make up for its second-place finish in the 1998 NIT.

”We felt we should have won it all last time,” Penn State coach Jerry Dunn said. ”I know these guys are looking forward to finishing what we started.”

Jarrett Stephens certainly is.

Two years ago, Stephens tore his knee when he was fouled on a breakaway. He missed the championship game, and Penn State lost to Minnesota.

On Wednesday night, Stephens had 24 points and 10 rebounds, playing like he wanted to make up for 1998.

”I’m excited to go back. I have some unfinished business at Madison Square Garden,” said Stephens, who missed all but two games of the 1998-99 season while rehabilitating.

”He definitely deserves it,” said Joe Crispin. ”He’s worked hard to come back even better than he was.”

Crispin added 18 points against Kent, including eight free throws in the final minute for the Lions (18-15), who are fast forgetting their ninth-place finish in the Big Ten.

Eric Thomas had 18 points, while Andrew Mitchell and Demetric Shaw added 15 each for the Golden Flashes (23-8). Their leading scorer, Trevor Huffman, had just two points on 1-for-5 shooting.

”The way we’re playing right now, it’s going to be tough to beat us,” Penn State’s Gyasi Cline-Heard said.

The largest margin for either team in the second half was four until Penn State pulled ahead in the final four minutes.

With the Lions up 54-53, Cline-Heard tipped in a miss. On the next play, he stumbled, then recovered to nab a pass inside. At the other end, he scored to make it 58-53. Then, after Cline-Heard grabbed another miss by Kent, Crispin hit a 3-pointer that gave Penn State a 61-53 lead with 2:38 to play.

”I was due,” said Crispin, who finished 2-of-13 from the field. ”I think I was a little overdue. I just kind of relaxed and floated it in there.”

Kent cut the lead to 77-74 on Thomas’ 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds left, but Crispin made two free throws and Stephens stole the inbounds pass and scored as Penn State held on.

Crispin went 13-of-14 from the line.

For the second game in a row, fans stormed the court. This time, ”New York, New York” blared over the loudspeakers.

It was a big improvement over Monday’s finish against Siena, when Penn State gave up an eight-point lead in the final 1:46 and had to hit a buzzer-beater to advance.

”Coach did a good job of reminding us what happened on Monday, which was in the back of our head,” Crispin said. ”We did a good job of holding them off.”

Home-court advantage smoothed Penn State’s road to Madison Square Garden. Despite only barely qualifying for the tournament and bringing in the worst record in the field (15-15), the Lions had the luxury of being at home for all three of their games.

Penn State is 2-0 against Notre Dame, including a 33-22 victory in 1925.

Notre Dame 64, BYU 52

The Irish (21-14), who also played three games at home, were led by Troy Murphy’s 19 points and nine rebounds to clinch their trip to New York.

”It might be kind of our home away from home,” said guard David Graves of Notre Dame’s third trip to New York this season after playing in the preseason NIT and the Big East tournament there. ”We still have some things to prove. We’re not going to just be happy to be in the semifinals.”

The Cougars (22-11) were forced to travel 1,800 miles for the game.