There were a lot of questions coming into this newest season of Penn State Basketball. We didn’t know how many minutes the fabulous freshmen would play or if they would mesh well with the veteran players. We weren’t sure if Pat Chambers pushing the tempo with such a young group was good idea. There was also the issue of replacing the great post play the Lions got out of Brandon Taylor last year.
One thing we did expect to happen was for Shep Garner to increase his scoring output by playing off the ball and becoming a more efficient shooter. After the junior guard went from 9.2 points per game in his freshman year to 14.8 points per game in 2015-16, he seemed poised for a breakout in his third campaign under Chambers.
There have been a lot of good things happening to Penn State Basketball this season — most notably the play of the freshmen and the defense — but whatever is going on with Garner is not one of them. Instead of getting better in 2016-17, he’s taken a step back. Not only has his scoring average dropped to 12.1 points per game, but he’s shooting just 39 percent from the field. That’s a little better than last year, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be if the Lions are going to avoid being the worst offense in the Big Ten this year.
We can live with guys like Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens struggling with their shooting percentages and turning the ball over because we want them to learn, grow, and be the future of the program. However, with Shep we wanted him to be the steady hand that could give the offense a kick in the butt when it’s struggling. So far, he hasn’t been that guy.
The worst part about Garner’s campaign is that his production has shrunk in Big Ten play, when Chambers needs him the most. With only two double-digit scoring outputs in Penn State’s eight conference games, the Lions are having to rely too much on their inexperienced players to carry the load against giants like Purdue and Wisconsin. Were those games destined to be losses anyway? Probably, but if Garner doesn’t pull out of this slump soon, it could cost Penn State a win in a game that it needs to have. A game like the one this Saturday against Illinois.