Like Jay-Z, I’ve officially come back from retirement* to marvel at Penn State’s meaningless** exhibition game against the preseason No. 13 West Virginia Mountaineers. The Nittany Lions started out strong, commanding a 12-point halftime lead, then answering every Mountaineer run in the second half with one of their own. The game ended on a Josh Reaves tipped shot to close out an exciting, back and forth affair that did not feel like an exhibition.
This varies by the kind of exhibition, but both teams played their starters the entire game in this one. It was readily apparent that neither team wanted to lose this game, and every guy on the floor was playing this like a mid-to-late November game instead of an early exhibition. Without taking too much away from a single game before the season is officially underway, there are a few things that stood out to me, the biggest three are as follows:
Offense is ahead of schedule
The loss of Tony Carr and Shep Garner had most of us concerned about where the points would come from, given that those two accounted for over 50% of the Nittany Lions’ scoring output last season. While Lamar Stevens is clearly the focal point of the offense, the rest of the cast looked confident in this game, consistently moving the ball and finding open guys time after time. The offense had the kind of flow we have rarely seen from a Penn State team this early in the season. This is an encouraging sign for a team that needs as fast a start as it can get given the difficulty of this year’s schedule compared to last.
Defense didn’t miss a beat
The Lions held West Virginia to 33% shooting in the first half, 42% for the game. Penn State led for 38:10 in this game, with The Mountaineers only holding a few very short-lived leads all game. Against a team properly monikered “Press Virginia,” it was the Nittany Lion pressure that was the frustrating factor, contributing to the paltry shooting performance by the opponent in the first half. Maybe there’s room for “Press State” in the future...
The kids are alright
Myles Dread scored 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Rasir Bolton had zero turnovers against the Kenpom #4 defense in the country, Trent Buttrick looked like an adequate spot up player whose game has started to come to him. Jamari Wheeler made a three-pointer. And of course, John Harrar, Josh Reaves, and Stevens all looked like they did during the NIT run.
Had the benches been emptied out midway through the first half, I’d be less willing to take anything away from this game. But seeing how competitive it was, and seeing how every starter played all available minutes (foul trouble not withstanding), it becomes clear that this game was viewed as a confidence booster by the staff, instead of one where they’d figure out what they had. And for Penn State, facing one of the best defenses in the nation this early could pay dividends as the season goes on.***
*Narrator: He hasn’t.
**While they don’t count in the record books, some exhibition games can give you more insight into a team than others. I’m going to say this is one of the former due to the opponent.
***Penn State won’t see a defense in the Kenpom top 50 until it faces Virginia Tech on Nov. 27, and won’t see a top-25 defense until it goes on the road to Alabama on Dec. 21. Based on preseason stats, Penn State won’t face another top-10 defense this season.