Penn State recovered from a sluggish first half to get a 76-61 win over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Lamar Stevens led the charge for the Nittany Lions once again, dropping 25 points and pulling down 9 rebounds. Freshman guard Rasir Bolton added 25 of his own, on one of the more efficient shooting nights you'll see from a freshman.
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The Nittany Lions came out of the gate feeding their best player, with Lamar Stevens scoring 8 of Penn State's first 10 points. The defense was tenacious in the early goings, with Reaves and Wheeler being the expected catalysts. Reaves picked Jason Burnell’s pocket leading to a transition layup, and Wheeler’s strong pressure caused the Gamecocks to throw an early pass out of bounds.
An early foul forced Pat Chambers to sit John Harrar however and the Nittany Lions' rebounding suffered as a result. The sophomore was quick to make up for lost time once he got back on the floor though, pulling down three offensive boards in a 26-second stretch, with a fourth on the next defensive position. While not as dominant as Harrar, fellow sophomore forward Trent Buttrick held his own on the offensive glass, hauling in two offensive rebounds. He later added a three in what would become a productive first half off the bench.
"Johnny is going to be tough and physical. It was great to see him play 26 minutes," Chambers said of Harrar, "He'll wipe off the dust, he'll make some of those dunks and some of those layups, and I know the free throws will go."
Freshman guard Bolton looked exceptional in the first half, scoring 14 points on 5/7 shooting. He showed off his athleticism with two stellar drives to the basket resulting in layups. He also hit a pair threes from well beyond the arc, while going 2/3 from the line.
After struggling to connect from deep in the early goings, missing their first eight shots, the Nittany Lions caught fire midway through the opening period. They hit five of their next eight from beyond the arc to head into the break with a 37-32 lead as the Gamecocks refused to go away.
Penn State was sluggish to start the second half offensively as they traded baskets for the first ten minutes of the period and JSU hung within single digits. Some stingy defense from the Nittany Lions finally sparked a 7-0 run which allowed for some separation - the run started with a Reaves steal (shocker), which progressed into a wide open three from Stevens that was nothing but net. After recording two steals tonight, Reaves finds himself sitting 6th all-time in steals at Penn State with 176. A great defensive sequence by the Lions forced JSU into a travel in the paint, and the ensuing resulted in another bucket. Reaves then drew a charge, followed by a Stevens and-one that brought Penn State to an 11-point lead, its largest of the day to that point.
Bolton continued to shine in the latter period. He was Penn State's offensive spark throughout the game and looked impressive from start to finish. The freshman finished the day shooting 8 of 14 from the field with 25 points. His confidence as a scorer is extremely impressive, and his performance tonight and to start the season may have earned him the starting spot over Jamari Wheeler. Bolton's 25-point performance was especially huge for the Nittany Lions as freshman backcourt mate Myles Dread struggled from the floor in his second game, shooting 3-12 and 1-8 from 3. Dread finished with seven points and five rebounds.
"I don't really focus on it. I just go into games trying to win and play Penn State basketball. It's all about the team, it's not about me starting or whatever. It's whatever we got to do to win if that's what has to be done it has to be done," the freshman said.
Stevens, yet again, carried Penn State when he was called upon. He finished with 25 points on 18 shots, converting crucial bucket after a crucial bucket with the offense stagnating. He once again led all Nittany Lions with nine rebounds.
The final score didn't reflect the flow of the game, as a late flagrant foul on Myreon Jones and a Reaves and-one sealed the deal for Penn State, extending the lead to 13 with 47 seconds left of the game.
Penn State improves to 2-0 on the young season with the win.The Nittany Lions are back in action on Thursday night in Chicago to take on DePaul for the second time in three years as part of the Gavitt Games. More on the Blue Demons later this week.