|1st half||2nd half||final|
Josh Reaves opened and closed the scoring on Saturday in Morgantown to give Penn State an 84-82 charity exhibition victory over No. 13 West Virginia in advance of the season opener against North Florida on Friday evening. The Nittany Lions were led in scoring by freshman Myles Dread's 23 points on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Reigning NIT MVP Lamar Stevens added 20 points and 11 rebounds in the winning effort.
Questions about Penn State's inexperienced backcourt were answered with aplomb against one of the nation's most tenacious defenses. Turnovers were committed, as expected, but Jamari Wheeler and freshman backup Rasir Bolton responded to West Virginia's pressure well. A 10-2 run by Penn State's freshman duo of Dread and Bolton to close out the first half was particularly impressive.
The early second half saw the Mountaineers mount a comeback through physical play, forcing Penn State fouls by the bunch. The officials' whistles got a workout on Saturday - the teams combined for 50 fouls, and West Virginia was able to convert on 26 of their 34 free throw attempts. WVU was also able to match PSU's hot hand from deep in the second half and tied the game on a few occasions. Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad led the comebacks with 25 combined second-half points.
Every time the hosts looked set to pull away, the Lions responded. Bolton made play after play, including a back-to-back sequence in which he banked in a three and then scored an and-1 off a Wheeler steal. Bolton dished four assists and turned the ball over zero times in 31 minutes against West Virginia, a team that forced turnovers on nearly a quarter (23.4%) of their defensive possessions last year. Exhibition and all that, but you're allowed to be impressed.
WVU had one last push in them, and Ahmad got free for a game-tying layup with 29 seconds remaining. Penn State got the ball into the hands of Stevens, who created space on a stepback dribble and softly hit the rim twice. The second bounce gave Reaves the time to sneak behind a ballwatching Lamont West and tip the ball off the backboard and in with one second remaining (hashtag #joshreavesthings). WVU's attempt to get a long inbound to Konate was batted down, giving Penn State a nice feather in their cap heading into the season.
A few rotational questions were answered in this game, which is perhaps the bigger takeaway than most player performances in an exhibition game. John Harrar unsurprisingly got the start for the indefinitely suspended Mike Watkins, whose timetable for return is undetermined. Harrar played well in 18 minutes aside from his foul trouble against Konate inside. Trent Buttrick spelled Harrar, hit a three-pointer and looked competent enough as the backup center playing alongside Stevens. If/when Watkins is back, Buttrick will likely be asked to give Stevens a breather when necessary. Senior Deivis Zemgulis played five minutes at power forward with Stevens at the five in small ball lineups.
In the backcourt, Wheeler got 27 minutes as the starter at point guard. Bolton played 31 minutes, running off the ball with Wheeler in and running the point with him out. There were a few sets with Wheeler, Bolton and Dread, who started at shooting guard but played plenty of the three and showcased his range all afternoon. Fellow freshman Myreon Jones shot 1-5 in ten minutes of action. He'll hear from Pat Chambers about some of the shots he chose to take in his limited action.
Penn State's season opens for real on Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center against North Florida (7:30 pm, BTN Plus). The Ospreys finished fifth in the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2018. To donate to the American Red Cross for the aide of the victims of Hurricane Florence, please visit redcross.org/psu.