You never know what you're going to get with November college basketball. Penn State's young guns are flying at 100 mph in their first week of games with limited practice time, but the Nittany Lions took a step in the right direction with a 85-76 win over Grand Canyon.
The Lions were unexpectedly shorthanded this evening as Davis Zemgulis and Isaiah Washington joined Josh Reaves on the injury report. Washington suffered a minor ankle injury that's not expected to keep him out long, while Zemgulis sat out with concussion-like symptoms after he took an elbow from Mike Watkins in the Duquesne game.
With the shortened bench, Chambers was forced to throw Nazeer Bostick into his first action and managed just an eight man rotation for the whole game. That didn't seem to matter as the three players off the bench made vital contributions to the Lions' victory.
The first half was a beautiful display of offensive basketball from the Nittany Lions. They scored 48 points at 1.21 points-per-possession while assisting on 13 of their 18 made field goals. It was a total team effort, too, as all eight players scored at least three points in the half, while only Shep Garner reached double-digits with 11.
However, their team defense left a lot to be desired. We knew coming into this game that Josh Braun, the WAC's preseason player of the year, could fill it up from beyond the arc. The Lions still let the Antelopes' best player get loose for 16 points on 4-8 shooting from three in the first half. If they were able to contain Braun, this one may have been over at halftime. Instead, the Lions took a 48-41 lead to the break.
While the offense was nearly unstoppable in the first period, they began the second half with a patented Penn State scoring drought like the countless ones witnessed last season. The Lions didn't score their first points of the second half until the 14:39 mark on a pair of Lamar Stevens free throws. While it seemed this young squad might let the game slip away, they maintained a strong effort level on defense and prevented Grand Canyon from taking control of the game.
Once they were able to regain some offensive rhythm, the Lions opened up a three-possession lead that they maintained the rest of the way.
For all of the positives from the Nittany Lions tonight, there's no question this team is going to struggle rebounding the basketball. None of their first three opponents are particularly good rebounding clubs, and they've all had their way against Penn State. The small ball lineups must be able to hold their own on the glass if PSU wants to succeed in the Big Ten.
Outside of the rebounding numbers, everything else has been positive. This was the second straight game where the Nittany Lions had 20 assists. They reached that mark under Chambers just twice in his five prior seasons. Also, the lack of turnovers has been really impressive considering their new feverish pace. Clearly these guys can excel playing an uptempo style.
- Shep Garner - I hesitate to say he played well, but only because our expectations are so high. Shep had a solid statline with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists, but he also had some bad turnovers and left a few buckets on the floor. He at least showed up from the jump with 11 first-half points.
- Mike Watkins - Affectionately dubbed Mike Swatkins, the Lions' new big man continues to swat shots at an incredible rate. He didn't have his best shooting night, but nine points, six boards, three blocks and a +10 in 22 minutes is always a good performance for this program's starting center.
- Tony Carr - A smooth criminal on the court, Carr looked completely in control in just his third college game. He finished with 10 points and six assists in 36 minutes, and his jump shot continues to be a pleasant surprise. With two more threes tonight, he's off to a 6-12 start from beyond the arc.
- Lamar Stevens - Another freshman that just continues to impress. Not his best shooting night either, but Lamar remained aggressive all game long. He lead the way with 19 points and five rebounds, while operating almost exclusively in the mid-range.
- Payton Banks - Banks picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, but he was still able to have a tremendous impact. Other than two strikingly awful misses, Banks finished with 15 points on just seven shots and was +19 in his 19 minutes.
- Terrence Samuel - We're starting to get a feel for what this transfer can do off the bench. Samuel continues to thrive in the open court and set up his teammates beautifully all night (7 assists). Just please do something about that jumpshot.
- Julian Moore - A much better night for Moore than his first two games. He was active on the glass and had three beautiful tip jams. His defense will still leave you shaking your head at times, but the Lions need productive minutes from him nonetheless. I will take 6 points and 9 rebounds every night off the bench.
- Nazeer Bostick - A solid debut for a guy who many thought would be a redshirt candidate. He isn't the most refined player, but seven points and zero turnovers in 17 minutes is a great start for him. He definitely didn't look like a true freshman playing in his first ever collegiate game.