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Penn State Handles Montana 70-57

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Pat Chambers’ team continues to take care of business during the non-conference schedule.

NCAA Basketball: Montana at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State (3-0) came out and took care of business against a talented Montana team. Tony Carr left with what appears to be a short-term ankle injury and was seen icing it on the bench at the end of the game. Shep Garner was injured but returned to the game with a taped nose, hitting three-point shots when the team really needed it.

Each team came out of the gate looking sharp, with Montana holding a slight edge through five minutes of play, 8-6. A couple of nice baskets by Lamar Stevens and a back-in layup by Tony Carr got the Lions a 13-12 lead minutes later. Nazeer Bostick took a feed from Carr for this dunk a few minutes later and the score was 15-14 after eight minutes of play.

A three-point play on a drive and foul by Josh Reaves extended the lead to 23-16 moments later. Mike Watkins came out of the game with Satchel Pierce taking over on the low-post. Montana quickly began taking the ball to the hoop, challenging Pierce, and was able to cut the lead to 25-21 before Watkins was brought back into the game. It was a case of Pat Chambers trying to get Watkins some rest, but the reserves were not able to hold the fort for long, if at all. Jamari Wheeler made a turnover but did not give up on the play, chasing down the play for a clean strip to get the ball back. It was a great look at the instincts and abilities of the freshman guard. Penn State led 30-24 with four minutes left in the half.

While the production from the low-post reserves remains to be a question mark for the team, the guard depth is considerable, and productive as well. Bostick and Wheeler are solid players that bring unique skills, mostly defensive at this point, to the floor.

Watkins once again went to the bench and this time Julian Moore came into the game. Montana immediately tried to get the ball inside. This time the combination of Lamar Stevens and Moore had better results. It illustrates a strategy that Penn State will have to be ready for as the season wears on. The Lions now have three bodies on the low-post but the big guys have to now prove that they can be productive when Watkins is on the bench. Moore played 7 minutes in the half and Watkins played just 8 while neither had foul trouble. Penn State led 34-29 at the half.

Early in the second half Tony Carr rolled his ankle so severely that he had to leave the game. Carr got the left-ankle taped on the sidelines and was in clear pain. With Reaves, Bostick and Garner on the court in Carr’s absence, Garner took the lead as point guard. Stevens and Watkins picked up some of the slack on the offensive end. At the first break in the second half, Penn State maintained a five-point lead, 41-36.

Jamari Wheeler entered the game a few minutes later, assuming the traditional point-guard responsibilities, allowing Garner to shift over to the two-guard position. The change allowed the offense to continue on as it would were Carr in the game. As a result the Lions led 51-41 with twelve minutes to play. At that point in the game Lamar Stevens was 7 of 10 from the field, good for 20 points. While Carr was out with injury, the low-post players were shuffling in and out, the one constant to that point was Stevens.

Montana used some nice shooting behind the arc and a few fast-break finishes for a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 51-50. On the next possession, the team got the ball to Stevens, who drew a double-team, and he found Shep Garner for an open three-point shot. The next time down the court Stevens made an entry pass to Satchel Pierce, who then found Josh Reaves for another two points. The lead was back to 56-50.

Stevens showed a maturity in his game that allowed him to use the attention that he was getting to create high-percentage shots for his teammates. Shep Garner and Nazeer Bostick bumped heads accidently with 6:36 on the clock and Garner was cut, forced to leave the game while bleeding from his head. With the injury to Carr, who was on the bench with ice on his ankle at this point, it stretched the back-court of the Lions a little thin.

Jamari Wheeler entered the game and took the responsibility of playing point guard. Leading 58-52, with Mike Watkins on the bench, Montana once again tried to go inside. This time Satchel Pierce stepped up defensively, getting a block and also getting the ball back for PSU. Pierce got a rebound on the next defensive trip.

The Grizzlies used some hot shooting to cut the lead to 58-55 with 3:39 to play. Shep Garner, returning from the earlier injury, drove to the hoop and got two free throws, but missed both. On the next set Josh Reaves got the ball back when he force a ten-second violation. Garner hit a three-point shot seconds later to give PSU the 61-55 lead. Garner hit another three on the following possession to add on to the lead.

As Tony Carr remained out for the night Jamari Wheeler stayed in the game, getting some of his first late-game meaningful playing time as a Nittany Lion. Wheeler missed two free-throws with under two minutes to play while PSU led by nine points. It was a good ‘first’ for the young player that is destined for a ton of playing time later in the year and in years to come. While it would have been nice to have had the youngster play a perfect game in place of Carr, the playing time itself was valuable as a learning experience.

Penn State settled down and won the end of the game free-throw shooting contest.

PPP and Four Factors

Team Total Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Team Total Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Penn State 70 1.00 56 14.3 21.3 48%
Montana 0.81 44.6 26.3 21.3 26.80%

For the second game in a row the defense showed up. After a PPP performance of .69 versus Fairleigh Dickinson, Penn State followed it up holding Montana to .81. It’s the type of showing that the Lions need when facing a team that it has a clear talent advantage over.

Player of the Game

Lamar Stevens- (25 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals) Stevens stepped up while Tony Carr went out with the ankle injury. Not only did Stevens produce on the stat sheet, he used his influence to get other players open for easy scoring chances. It was a chance for Stevens to show his leadership abilities, through his play on the court, and the sophomore showed he is up to the task.

Random Observations

  • It was nice to see Montana, while out-sized, attack the low-post when Watkins was not in the game. While the Grizzlies do not have the personnel that Big Ten teams will have to exploit the Lions’ depth inside, it does give Chambers a chance to break down the film of the game for his team, to emphasize the importance of playing a more complete defensive game while the big man is taking a break. It’s not just Pierce and Moore that need to step up in Watkins’ absence, but also Lamar Stevens, the long-armed guards, everyone.
  • It’s kind of scary to say this aloud, so instead I will just type it into a blog. Penn State is a fun basketball team to watch. There, I typed it. Whether the team has enough of this (low-post productive depth) or is strong enough in that (three-point shooting) it is clear that the team has enough It. There are several players on this team that bring qualities that are hard to quantify. Josh Reaves and Nazeer Bostick bring a defensive intensity that doesn’t show up on paper. Tony Carr is a leader and his timely play-making is exceptional. Lamar Stevens can do anything; hit threes, play center, create his own shot during a team-wide scoring drought. Mike Watkins is a beast. There’s the fourth-year senior, with more mileage on his odometer than most players that have ever stepped on the court in Happy Valley, Shep Garner, who is morphing into a three-point and off-the-ball defensive specialist. There’s a little something for everyone here, whether the team wins or loses, it’s fun to watch.

Up Next

The Lions have just one day to recover before taking on Columbia in State College on Friday night. The game will be carried on BTN Plus at 7 p.m. Join us for the open thread or follow along on twitter @BSDtweet.