Penn State earned their first win of the season Sunday with an 82-74 win over a feisty Duquesne team. The Nittany Lions were led to victory by Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Mike Watkins, the three starting freshmen. Of the team's 82 points, the freshmen efficiently scored 59 of them on just 31 shots.
Watkins got things going early, scoring Penn State's first three baskets of the game. He finished with 15 points on a sparkling 6-for-7 from the field, adding in 6 boards and 5 blocks. Defense remains a bit of an issue for Watkins, as he struggles defending without fouling once the ball gets into the post. But he is a difference maker whenever he is on the floor.
Carr may have been the most valuable player on the floor for the Lions, pouring in 20 points and hitting a pair of big threes in the second half. He has displayed a knack for rebounding as a 6-foot-4 point guard, grabbing 7 of those while also chipping in with 4 assists. His defense was very solid, and his steadying presence was important throughout the game.
Stevens led the team with 24 points, excelling at driving the ball. He flashes great passing instincts on those drives, but his biggest impact was consistently getting to the free throw line against Duquesne. Stevens finished 12-13 from the stripe.
If any of those guys had struggled in this game, Penn State might not have won. Juniors Shep Garner and Payton Banks, the other two starters, struggled mightily. Garner looked lost on both ends for large stretches, with turnovers and defensive lapses plaguing what was already a tough shooting night. Banks is also having a tough time coming back from his leg injury, and he looks a step slow as he tries to guard opposing 3's in Josh Reaves' absence.
The bench has not been much better. Terrence Samuel, at the very least, has been a nice defensive player, and his offensive game can be adequate so long as he never takes another jump shot again. He can surprise defenses in the open floor, and he is strong enough going to the basket that he can convert some of those.
The contributions from the rest have been discouraging. Julian Moore has gotten worked on defense and has yet to look comfortable at all offensively. Davis Zemgulis has not adjusted to playing the 4 when Stevens is off the floor, and his flat three-point shot has not fallen through two games. And Isaiah Washington has been invisible in limited action.
It is clear that the team misses Josh Reaves, but even when he returns, the freshmen are going to need more help from the veterans. There is no question when you watch this team that it is still early in the season, but the biggest surprise is that it has impacted the veterans more than the freshmen.
Rebounding continues to be a problem for this team. We knew they were going to be small, but this is the second game in a row where they were outmatched on the glass. That doesn't bode well when they start playing better opponents.
That said, the rest of the numbers here are encouraging. When Duquesne was unable to get the ball inside, Penn State was able to force some turnovers and get out in transition. Also of note, the Lions assisted on 20 of their 28 made field goals, their best team output since Tim Frazier was in a Nittany Lion uniform. More of that ball movement, please.