This was not your ordinary sleepy Penn State basketball season opener, given that former star point guard and assistant coach Danny Earl was making his head coaching debut on the visitors' bench for VMI. The game started off with a bang as highly-touted freshman Josh Reaves, making not only his debut in collegiate basketball but also making his debut as a starter, stole a pass on VMI's opening possession and slammed it home to open up the scoring.
Unfortunately, this did not spark a hot shooting start for PSU, while VMI started out hot, nailing 7 of their first 15 shots from the field and found themselves leading by as many as eight points (12-4) early on. Pat Chambers' crew however, gradually picked up the defensive tenacity and the shots began to fall on offense, thanks to contributions from Shep Garner, Brandon Taylor, and first-time starter Payton Banks, as PSU would ultimately outscore VMI 25-12 the rest of the half to take a 29-24 lead to the locker room.
The second half would see PSU pick up where they left off, leading by as many as 20 points before cruising to a 62-50 victory. Garner led the way scoring-wise with 15 points, including a smooth 4-for-6 from three point land, and also added a trio of rebounds and two steals, to boot. Taylor (13 points) and Banks (12 points) also reached double-digit scoring for PSU and both had six rebounds, apiece. Meanwhile, Julian Eleby was VMI's lone double-digit scorer with 13 points.
Four Factors Analysis
The obvious takeaway from this is that PSU was more efficient in every major facet of the game than VMI. It should be noted that after VMI started out 7-for-15 (almost 50%), they finished the remainder of the game shooting merely 11-for-34 (just a tad below 33%). The Nittany Lions also committed fewer turnovers (9 to VMI's 14), out-rebounded (38 to 33) and had more trips to the free throw line (18 to 12) than the Keydets.
Player of the Game - Shep Garner: 15 pts (4-6 3pt)
He may be a sophomore, but he's already a seasoned vet from having been a starter his entire freshman season last year and it showed with his solid performance today. Shep will undoubtedly be a key figure for the backcourt this season and also an important team leader, as well. Also, here's to hoping we have another Flavor Flav sighting at a home game this season.
- This Josh Reaves kid is going to be pretty special. A quick disclaimer: I only listened to the radio broadcast, but from listening to the way Steve Jones and Dick Jerardi gushed over his athleticism, it's hard not to be excited about the future of the program with guys like him already starting to have an impact.
- Speaking of true freshmen: Davis Zemgulis also saw some game action but unfortunately, was unable to replicate his YouTube magic
- It sure will be interesting to see how many players end up being a part of the regular rotation come Big Ten play. Partially because it was a blowout but also because he is still getting a feel for what works, Pat Chambers played ten different guys today. You figure that Donovon Jack, Julian Moore, and Devin Foster will always be a part of the rotation but how much playing time guys like Isaiah Washington and Zemgulis earn will be something to see.
- Freshman Mike Watkins did not play in today's game and might not play all season. The NCAA has yet to clear him, per Pat Chambers. Read our full story here.
Penn State hosts DePaul on Tuesday in the inaugural Gavitt Tip-Off Classic. While DePaul is certainly a beatable opponent, they will be a step up from VMI.