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Penn State 77, Wright State 59

The boys in blue bounce back in Cancun.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s nice to be wrong sometimes. Penn State came in off a mildly disappointing OT loss against DePaul. It felt like the set-up for a typical letdown in a preseason tournament against a veteran mid-major program. Wright State, returning four starters from a NCAA tournament team, was a team I thought would challenge Penn State for the majority of the game. The Nittany Lions came out fast, held firm, and then built up a sizeable lead that lasted the entirety of the second half.

Lamar Stevens dominated. He scored 25 points in 25 minutes of play. Picking up his fourth foul with over 9-minutes to play is concerning, but that he didn’t need to re-enter, and the team didn’t need him to complete the win is encouraging. A supporting cast of Myles Dread, Jamari Wheeler, and Josh Reaves all added 10+ points, with 9 players total scoring points. If you needed something to sooth your nerves after a 2-point OT performance in Chicago – this was it (we even got a Daniil Kasatkin sighting!).

Myles Dread opened the scoring with a beautiful 3 off an inbounds play from the baseline, nothing but net. This was offset by a costly illegal screen by John Harrar just over 1-minute in, which set him up to pick up second on the defensive end with 17:51 remaining in the half. Lamar paced the offense early on, warranting a double team from Wright State before the first media timeout. Jamari Wheeler was able to knock down a 3-point shot, key to keeping the defense honest when they’re guarding him. At the first media timeout Penn State had built a 10 to 3 lead.

Billy Wampler carried the Raiders through the first half, scoring their first six points. Penn State’s defense proved to be a problem for everyone else on the Wright State side. Reaves, Wheeler, and Myles Dread all harassed Wright State as Chambers employed a 2-2-1 three-quarter court press. With Lamar Stevens double-teamed, Reaves picked up the slack with back-to-back baskets to keep Penn State in command. Just before the U12 media timeout Dread scored on a beautiful teardrop showing he’s more than just a perimeter threat.

Picking up his second foul with 9:45 remaining in the first half, Trent Buttrick joined Harrar on the bench as Deivis Zemgulis entered the game. With one foul as he went for a steal at the 3-point line, and one going for an offensive rebound, Trent will have a few teachable moments to look at on tape. Zemgulis did his job (2 rebounds, 2 points in the first), but Buttrick and Harrar need to stay out of foul trouble. Dread, Wheeler, Reaves and even Myreon Jones carried the scoring while Stevens garnered the attention of the entire Wright State side.

A 13 to 0 run midway through the second half gave the Nittany Lions a 34 to 15 lead that they would pretty much maintain until halftime. Lamar Stevens struggled some with the increased attention given to him by the opposing defense, but it didn’t keep him from having another double-digit scoring outing in the first half. Myles Dread showcased his offensive and defensive ability, with a strong 10-point, 4-steal outing. Reaves rounded out the Nittany Lions’ double-digit scorers with 10-points. Even with Harrar and Buttrick on the bench, the team played suffocating defense. Only Billy Wampler was able to find success scoring, as he led the team with 14 points at the half.

Penn State took a 45 to 28 lead into the half. One of the most significant benefits of that large lead is that it allowed Lamar Stevens to get a whopping 5-minutes of rest during the opening frame. The Nittany Lions entered the game as the favorites, with a clear edge in talent. Keeping the rebound battle close (PSU 14, WSU 15) allowed them to capitalize on their advantages in other facets of the game.

The team opened the second half a little sluggish. While they kept the Raiders at a distance, they allowed them to trade baskets throughout much of the second half. A short offensive drought was ended when Lamar Stevens decided to take over for a bit prior to picking up his fourth foul with over 9-minutes to play. Around the midpoint in the half, Wright State was able to get within 14 points, leading head coach Scott Nagy to use a timeout to organize a comeback. With Stevens on the bench and Harrar quickly picking up personal fouls, a lineup of Buttrick, Reaves, Jones, Dread and Wheeler was able to maintain Penn State’s lead. Dread, Buttrick and Wheeler all delivered 3s, with Wheeler’s a dagger at the end of the shot clock.

Zemgulis came in for Buttrick with 4:50 remaining in the game. Chambers elected to test a very small lineup against a strong rebounding team with a solid inside presence, and it worked out. On the bench with four fouls already, Lamar Stevens never came back in. Jamari Wheeler closed out the game on fire, finishing with 12 points on 4-5 shooting from the field. With what he can bring defensively, Wheeler could be devastating if he can make this type of night a regularity.

My biggest concerns coming into the game were the depth of Wright State and their rebounding. The depth more or less delivered, although Loudon Love struggled throughout the first half, and Cole Gentry got outclassed by Wheeler. As for rebounding, Penn State managed 32 boards compared to 26 for Wright State. The Nittany Lions shooting 58% compared to 39.6% for the Raiders contributes to the rebounding numbers, but with Stevens and Harrar out for extended periods, it’s still encouraging. Josh Reaves led the team with 10 rebounds, gaining his first double-double of the season. Oh, and Myles Dread had 6 steals!

Four Factor Analysis

Penn State shot the lights out and played solid defense all night. There’s not a whole lot to complain about when the officiating was questionable for both sides. Penn State’s perimeter defense to this point has been phenomenal, and their edge in the 3-point game has mitigated their lacking interior defense. Tonight they showed an ability to rebound as a team, even with Stevens and Harrar on the bench. Couples with their hot shooting, the edge on the boards ensured Wright State didn’t have a chance to come back.

Player of the Game

I wanted to highlight someone else for a change, but Lamar Stevens’ night was too impressive to ignore. In 25 minutes of play Stevens was yet again a dominant force. He scored 25 points while shooting 10 for 15 from the field, 1 for 2 from 3, and 4 for 4 from the line. He’ll need to manage the fouls, but this was a night where everyone struggled to understand the referees’ logic. Myles Dread and Josh Reaves were honorable mention, but Lamar is deserving as far and away the best player on the court.

Random Observations

  • Lamar “No Answer” Stevens’ strength is noticeable in his ability to finish at the rim despite contact, and he’s been showing off a smooth Euro step. He has the ability to take over the game, and teams to this point haven’t found a way to stop that. Until Big Ten season begins, his biggest challenge will be to play without fouling too much. When that’s unavoidable, he needs to work on not allowing the refs to get in his head. He has three straight games with 25+ points, and tonight he got there in 25 minutes of play…
  • Depth? Generally if you’re reading about depth in the context of PSU hoops it’s preceded by phrases like, “lack of” and “non-existent”, this year might change that. Nine different players scored for the Nittany Lions, and four reached double-digits. Having reliable scoring options when Lamar is double-teamed or in foul trouble is critical, and multiple guys stepped up tonight.
  • Bouncing Back: Rasir Bolton continued to struggle from the field (not a major concern for a true freshman this time of year). Aside from him, the team didn’t seem to carry over any negativity from their OT loss at DePaul last week. Again, they started the game strong and took an early lead. However this time they never relinquished that lead.

Up Next:

Penn State will play again tomorrow for the Cancun Challenge Championship against the Bradley Braves at 8:30pm EST. The game will again be televised on CBS Sports Network.