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The Nittany Lions opened up the 2018-19 hoops season with an 87-72 win over the North Florida Ospreys. Lamar Stevens was downright dominant in a game that was never in doubt. The junior finished with 22 points and ten boards, leading the Lions in both categories. Josh Reaves added in 19 while freshman Myles Dread contributed 17 points and four threes in his debut.
Just about everyone looked like they were moving in slow motion to open the game before Stevens muscled his way to the basket for an and-1, the first of what would be four in the first half for him. He played a ton of time at the five due to some early foul trouble for John Harrar.
"I feel like our team depends on me to score or make plays," Stevens said of his versatility. "Our young guys believe in me and our team believes in me so I just do whatever I can to help us win."
With Harrar on the bench, the Ospreys made a point to attack the basket and did some damage in the paint and on the glass. They needed to make their living inside all night, as they shot an abysmal 0-13 from deep in the first half and 5-27 overall. The Nittany Lions didn't look much better until Dread nailed a three to energize the crowd to end an 0 of 5 start from deep for Penn State. The freshman looked like an upperclassman all night long, shooting 4 of 8 from three and drawing a pair of big-time charges.
Reaves played some of the smartest defense of his career in the early going, recording three steals and a block on a one-on-one break that would make most players want to retire. His tenacious play on defense and unselfish play helped get Dread a pair of wide open threes to end the half on a 17-6 run.
Stevens cooled off a bit in the second, shooting just five shots as the Ospreys double-teamed Penn State's star for the entire period. With the attention focused on Stevens, Rasir Bolton took control for the Nittany Lions in the second period. The freshman got four attempts at the free throw line in the first five minutes, shooting 5-6 from the charity stripe on the night on his way to a 13-point collegiate debut. It wasn't just Bolton getting to the free throw line - the Nittany Lions as a whole did a fantastic job drawing fouls, shooting 35 total free throws and making 25.
Harrar made up for lost time in the second half, out muscle-ing some of the Ospreys smaller defenders to put up seven points and five boards in the final period. Despite the aforementioned freshmen's performances and Harrar's efforts, it was Reaves who put the game away. The senior exploded for 14 of his 19 points in the second half, including seven points at the free throw line. Add in four steals and three rebounds and had may have had the best opening night performance of his career.
"He's so crazy. He is so crazy, Josh Reaves...That's what Josh does. He's got great instincts and he gets deflections. He's one of the best defenders in the Big Ten for a reason," Pat Chambers said after the game.
In total, four Nittany Lions finished in double figures and if not for the foul issues, Harrar certainly would have joined them. While he got a better idea of what the team will look on Friday, Chambers has a good amount of lineup decisions to make. Bolton may have shown enough to earn the starting job over Wheeler, should Chambers feel the starting lineup needs more scoring punch. They played about the same amount of minutes so it seems like whoever starts is more of a formality - both will play significant minutes. The picture may become more clear when the Nittany Lions return to action on Monday night against Jacksonville State at the BJC.