It was a slow start for each team in the opening half. Penn State took a little over three minutes to score its first basket, as Shep Garner drained a three-pointer for an early 3-2 PSU lead. The teams then went back and forth, scoring on four consecutive trips for a 6-6 tie at the first timeout.
Josh Reaves scored a quick basket on the first possession after the break and it looked as though the Lions were ready to put the early scoring struggle behind them. Instead, following a Shep Garner three-pointer that tempted the net but spun out of the rim after making a full circle, Penn State went on another three-minute scoring drought. Reaves ended the slump with a drive to the hoop to cut the St. John’s lead to 14-11 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Moments later Payton Banks hit a three to tie the game.
St. Johns began to stretch a lead when Malik Ellison hit a long-range three to take a 24-17 advantage. Pat Chambers immediately called a timeout to talk to his team. PSU got three consecutive quality shots after the stoppage; a drive by Lamar Stevens, a three from Payton Banks, and a drive by Mike Watkins, that all resulted in shots that nearly went in but rimmed out. Finally Garner broke the ice once again with his third made three-pointer of the first half. Banks hit an open three on the next trip and the score was once again tied. It was St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin that was forced to take the run-stopping timeout. The score was tied 24-24 with 7:47 on the clock.
It turned out to be a run-interrupting timeout for Mullins as Penn State went on a 15-1 run for the next four minutes to take a 39-25 lead at the under four minute timeout. The scoring spurt included every element of what can be great about the Penn State offense. Drives by Garner, dunks by Watkins, nice transition passing by Terrence Samuel all were on display as the Lions played as fluidly as they have all season. Samuel was fouled on a drive and the whistle was the only thing that stopped the run. It was a 22-1 run overall at that point.
Samuel hit one of two free throws and on the next possession forced a five-second violation with his pesky defense when a St. John’s guard picked up the dribble. It was a complete effort, on both sides of the court, that carried Penn State. Following a Tony Carr made three pointer that brought the score to 43-25, the ball finally went in the hoop for the Red Storm. Unfortunately the basket was waived off, as Samuel drew a charging foul. These are the little plays that resulted in the continuation of the scoring streak and the eventual Penn State win.
Payton Banks banked in a shot on the next possession and the run was out to 28-1. Banks added a three as the shot-clock was winding down with just one second left with just over one minute remaining in the half. The teams went to the break with Penn State enjoying a 52-29 lead. The final points came on an end-to-end drive by Tony Carr that lulled all five Red Storm defenders to sleep as he tossed a teardrop over the top of them. It was a 35-5 run to end the half.
The opening four minutes of the second half was even in score but the intensity of Penn State did not match the first half. That is understandable since the first half was the best effort of the season. When Chambers put the full-court pressure on it turned up the heat on St. John’s. Watch as the defensive play from Reaves energizes the entire Penn State team, leading to a nice slam by Mike Watkins.
St. John’s settled down and went on a 12-2 run while using a press to slow down Penn State. The score was 62-46 at the under-12 timeout. The Lions settled down and began to answer the run, bleeding time off the game clock as the teams remained nearly 20 points separated on the score board.
With six minutes left in the game and St. John’s continuing to press, the Lions made the break look easy. Tony Carr dribbled the ball to the foul line and then stopped before he encountered the second wave of Red Storm defenders. He then found a streaking Josh Reaves for the dunk.
The final minutes of the game were played loosely, with each team laying off on the defensive side of the ball. Penn State held on for a final score of 92-76.
PPP and Four Factor Analysis
Penn State turned the ball over 21 times as did St. John’s. The difference was that many of the Lions’ turnovers were self-inflicted. There were a half-dozen travels that were simply a lack of concentration. The Lions shot 50% from the floor including a blistering-hot 13-23 from three point range.
Player of the Game- Mike Watkins ( 15 pts, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 4 assists)
Watkins continues to impress. He certainly knows how to fill out a box score. His high number of blocked shots and propensity to stay out of foul trouble indicates that he is a good defensive player. The numbers don’t do that aspect of his game justice, he plays even better than that. His ability to lay off on plays that he is certain to be called for a foul; the over-the-backs, the late foul that has no chance to stop a drive, are a part of his game that usually takes years to develop for young post players. Considering Penn State’s lack of depth behind Watkins, his ability to play 30 minutes as he did today is vital.
- The team looked as though it was comfortable in all phases of the game for the first time this season. When the going was good, the entire squad relaxed and played both intensely but also without white-knuckling it. The result was some great pressing, transition offense, half-court passing that led to open shots. Overall it was as much fun to watch as any game in recent memory.
- Pat Chambers wanted to challenge his young team with a difficult non-conference schedule. It appears to be paying off. While there has been a great deal of uneven play thus far, the freshmen, Carr and Watkins in particular, are beginning to get very comfortable. Lamar Stevens has and will continue to contribute but at this point it feels as though he is still trying to find his groove consistently. Supporting players such as Samuel and Banks have been money. Julian Moore continues to struggle, playing just 3 minutes, missing two open shots, and was on the floor while Penn State was outscored by 8 points.
- There seemed to be a good contingent of Penn State fans at Madison Square Garden. The Lion faithful seem to travel well to the Big Apple. Hopefully the team will be back soon.
Penn State will host Morgan State on Wednesday, Dec 21, at 5 p.m. The game will be broadcast on BTN+.