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Penn State 86, VMI 65: Lions Off To A Good Start

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The Nittany Lions took care of business in their opening game.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With their original opener against Drexel postponed, Penn State joined most of college basketball in this game, looking for an easy victory against VMI to start the season. Some teams already have three games under their belt by having participated in an early season tournament, but the Nittany Lions’ plans to play in Orland fell through when that event fell through.

As one would expect this season, things didn’t look as crisp right off the bat as they normally would. What didn’t seem to take a step back, however was the defensive tenacity of the team. Penn State made life hard early and often for the Keydets, applying pressure to the tune of five VMI turnovers in the first five minutes of the game.

That said, the foul struggles showed themselves quite early in this game, as Jamari Wheeler had to sit early with two fouls. Couple that with a 0-for-8 start from three-point range, and it was quite surprising that Penn State was only down four midway into the first half.

Izaiah Brockington, in a mild surprise, got the start over Myles Dread. The question of whether Sam Sessoms would play this season got answered in the first half, when he spelled Jamari wheeler with about 14 minutes to play. Trent Buttrick also saw plenty of time in this game backing up John Harrar.

Just like last game, VMI made many a substitution during this game. 13 players ended up playing for the Keydets, two shy of the 15 who played in their first contest. On the other hand, Penn State played 8 guys for of the contest.

Due to the defense still being relentless, the Lions were able to withstand VMI’s first-half barrage. They would finish 4-for-17 from three in the half, taking a 37 to 35 lead into halftime. Penn State could have easily blown this game open if not for all the missed threes, but alas, you gotta make the shots.

The second half saw saw the same type of early mistakes we saw in the first, but the Lions settled down a little bit sooner than they did in the first half. A bunch of fouls kept VMI in the game for a little bit, but after the Nittany Lions opened up a double-digit lead, they never looked back. With a little over two minutes to play, Penn State cleared its bench, and that was that.

Four Factors Analysis

This is a tale of two halves. Penn State played atrocious basketball in the first, while VMI were shooting out of their minds. The Nittany Lions turned it up in the second half, evening the numbers in the end. The glaring issue here is VMI’s free throw rate. The Lions did reach the bonus in the second half, whereas the Keydets made the double bonus. That will need to get cleaned up in a hurry.

Players Of The Game

Brockington made the most out of his starting opportunity, scoring 15 points to go along with eight rebounds, two blocks, and three steals to go along with it. Wheeler contributed 18 points of his own, with five steals to boot.

Random Observations

Wheeler and Sessoms together - Sessoms was expected to spend most of his time backing Wheeler up, but there were plenty of sets that had both guards on the floor at the same time.

Height is going to be a problem - While Penn State ultimately won the rebound battle, it was apparent at times that relying solely on John Harrar to be a presence inside is going to be disastrous in the Big Ten, especially if the team has another bad shooting day.

Fouling is going to be a problem too - The Nittany Lions racked five fouls fairly quickly in both halves. It didn’t cost them dearly this time around, but it will if they can’t clean it up moving forward.

Steals won’t be, however - Penn State had 18 in the game. A good way to make up for the height deficiency is to give other teams fewer possessions to work with.

Harrar tried another three - It hit the hoop this time.

Looking Ahead

Penn State welcomes VCU on Wednesday, December 2nd. The Rams blew out Utah State and Memphis, while losing to West Virginia, in their first three games of the season. This can be a great early barometer for the Nittany Lions. Network and time are yet to be determined.