You could be excused for not thinking anything was different about this program. Poor shooting and fouling plagued the Nittany Lions to devastating effects in the first 20 minutes that doomed Penn State to an 87-81 loss on opening night. Albany took a 16-point lead into the break led by Joe Cremo's 11 points on 5-7 shooting. The Danes' ball movement (16 assists on 30 made field goals) was the difference all evening, constantly breaking a Penn State press and building a first half lead that was ultimately insurmountable. Cremo booked his first career double-double with a Dane-high 22 points and 10 rebounds.
A spirited comeback saw Penn State climb within three late after Shep Garner, who poured in a game-high 25, drew a foul on a three-pointer and drained all three freebies. But adequate free throw shooting from the road team gave the Danes a well-earned victory, one that Pat Chambers will surely rue if this team does approach NCAA tournament contention. That seems distant now, but growing pains had to have been expected with a team debuting five new players.
Garner and Payton Banks led the comeback charge with six combined threes in the second half, a positive sign as any that this team can improve on this disappointing result. Banks' second period was especially promising after an erratic first stanza in his return to fitness following a hamstring injury.
The newbies each had their moments, too, though not enough to overcome a disciplined Albany team. Tony Carr scored 14 points on 5-15 (2-6 3pt) shooting from the floor to go with four assists. His top-50 talent was on display on a few occasions - his eye for sleeping defenders after a quick inbound pass will catch the eyes of fans for sure, but there's still some polish needed in his game. His Roman Catholic buddy Lamar Stevens was solid if unspectacular (10 points, 2-2 FG), but he did commit a costly three-point foul on Cremo in the heat of the Penn State comeback. Chalk it up to youthful exuberance.
Mike Watkins flashed brighter than anyone early, with three blocks in the opening three minutes of the game. Foul trouble limited the 6'9" de facto center in his first-ever contest. He finished with two additional blocks in the final 37 minutes to go along with 10 points and seven boards. Watkins rightfully started over Julian Moore, who finished with just three points and no rebounds despite his height advantage over all Dane defenders.
The discrepancy on the glass is striking here, and a bad sign for Penn State going forward. Moore and Watkins combined for seven rebounds as mentioned, but the responsibility to crash the boards is a shared one. Chambers will have to re-evaluate that part of the game and do it quickly. Duquesne comes to the BJC for a quick turnaround on Sunday. The Dukes smashed PSU at Consol Energy last season. An 0-2 start would be, well, less than ideal.