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Penn State 82, Duquesne 74: Have You Heard About The Freshmen?

Fans saw a glimpse of the future tonight, as the trio of freshmen put on a display

NCAA Basketball: Albany at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A slow start on offense, caused by horrific shooting from beyond the arc, allowed the Dukes to hang close throughout the first-half. Turnovers and offensive fouls further hampered the offensive effort, which was thankfully salvaged by Penn State’s ability to score in the paint. Despite their youth, the three starting freshmen were the pulse of the offense for the first half with Shep Garner struggling to find his stroke. The team looked more organized on offense than against Albany, but they’re still sorting things out.

On defense, the team was much more effective than against Albany. They forced difficult shots, Watkins and Stevens consistently altered shots in the paint, and the whole team kept their hands active deflecting shots and passes. The unit forced 13 turnovers in the first half alone. The Nittany Lions will have to improve their rebounding efforts moving forward, however. After allowing 12 offensive rebounds to Albany on Friday, they surrendered 14 more tonight to Duquesne.

At times this game felt like the standard PSU hoops game under Chambers: poor shooting from the perimeter, scrappy defense that keeps the game close, lots of foul trouble, and an opposing team shooting uncharacteristically well from 3. But things are different this year, even if the struggles feel the same. The 3 freshmen starting for the Nittany Lions provided 59 of 82 points, and carried the team while Garner and Banks struggled to sink their shots. Duquesne hung around, but was never able to build a lead. Eventually the more talented team on the court prevailed, with Penn State coming out on top 82-74.

Four Factors Analysis

Team Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Penn State 75 1.09 54.3% 25.8% 17.3% 39.7%
Opponent - 0.99 47.6% 36.8% 24.0% 30.2%

Penn State still struggled to defend the glass on defense, giving up to many second chance opportunities to Duquesne. They made up for it by playing more consistently on defense, surrendering fewer wide open looks, and continuing to force a healthy amount of turnovers. A poor shooting performance from the perimeter didn’t doom the team tonight thanks to an ability to get to the free throw line and knock the FTs down (see below).

Player of the Game - Lamar Stevens (24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists)

Getting it done on both sides of the court, Stevens is proving the be the versatile scorer that Penn State needed so badly to replace the production of Brandon Taylor. While he isn’t really a threat from 3, Stevens has a smooth and reliable mid-range jumper to go along with his ability to get to the rim. The freshman handled himself extremely well at the free-throw line, going 12-13 in his second career game. Stevens added two blocks and a steal on the defensive end to go with his big impact on the scoreboard.

Random Observations

  • Paging Mr. Garner - for the second straight game, Shep struggled to get going. In this case, he never really found his stroke. Adjusting to playing more off the ball, Shep is struggling to find open looks from beyond the arc. Julian Moore’s contributions have also been lacking so far, he is a player that Penn State expected to rely on for production down low.
  • Chemistry will continue to build, but there is a lot of miscommunication on the court for the young team. Errant or unexpected passes, and players colliding in transition. The team will continue to gel throughout the season, but they are struggling to mesh as a unit right now. The team looks a step out-of-sync thus far: miscalculating dunks and alley-oops, and without a clear go-to guy to rely on offensively.
  • Mike #SWATKINS had 5 more blocks tonight for Penn State. Both Watkins and Moore are going to struggle to avoid foul trouble this year, and that will force Penn State to play a smaller lineup at times. Lamar Stevens played the 5 when both of the big men were on the bench, and while he performed admirably, he also struggled with fouls. This is going to be an issue all year if Watkins and Moore can’t play under control.
  • While the offense struggled, this was a much better performance defensively and was reassuring after the lackluster display against Albany. However, they are still missing assignments, especially when boxing-out on the defensive glass. As per usual with Pat Chambers’ teams, they will need to get better at defending without fouling.
  • As I mentioned, the freshman (Carr, Watkins, and Stevens) combined for 59 of the 82 points scored in the game. I didn’t expect this to be “their team”, but it’s starting to feel that way. Part of this is the absence of Josh Reaves, but much of it has to do with inconsistent play from Garner, Banks, and Moore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t realistic to expect the three freshman to carry the team all year.

Looking Ahead

Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon. No, I’m not going on vacation, Penn State takes on the Grand Canyon Antelopes on Tuesday at 7:00 PM ET. It’s their final chance to get things in order before taking on Duke.