Although Tony Carr developed into the leader of the young Nittany Lions last year, it was Lamar Stevens who finished with the highest usage rate on the team at 26 percent. After scoring 12.7 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game in 2016-17, he’ll be once again asked to play a major role on a team that is still figuring out how to win consistently. With Stevens’s help, this version of the Nittany Lions could end up being the best we’ve seen in a while.
What he did last year
Stevens got off to a hot start in his freshman campaign with four straight double-digit scoring efforts to open up non-conference play. In just his second collegiate game ever, he scored 24 points with six rebounds and five assists while hitting 12 of 13 free throws in a win over Duquesne. The free throw attempts would turn out to be a theme for Stevens, as he led the Lions in fouls drawn per 40 minutes for the season.
Unfortunately, his scoring ability did not immediately translate to Big Ten play, as Stevens was held under 10 points per game during a five-game stretch in January. Starting on February 1, however, the Philadelphia native got into a groove and scored over 20 points in three out of four contests, including upset victories over Maryland and Illinois. The hot streak was in part due to Stevens’s newfound three-point shooting ability that allowed him to stretch the floor and increase the team’s scoring potential.
Stevens told us about his improved shooting at Big Ten Media Day earlier this month.
I worked on it a lot coming into my freshman year, but just the transition to college from high school was so different, so it took me a while to really get comfortable and confident. It’s just something that I continued to work on during the season, and that was able to show in the second half of the season.
During the first three months of the campaign, Stevens went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc, but in February and March, he was 11-for-27.
What to expect this year
Stevens continuing to get to the free throw line and developing his three-point game will be a big part of Penn State’s offense in 2017-18. There might not be a more versatile player on the roster with the way the sophomore is able to score inside and out while grabbing rebounds and creating for others. Carr promises to dominate the point guard role and Mike Watkins will be a force in the post, but Stevens will be the in-between guy who can do a little bit of everything and become the star of the show on any given night. He’ll be for Penn State’s offense what Josh Reaves has become for the defense. If Carr is struggling to get to the rim or Watkins gets into foul trouble, Stevens can pick up the slack and keep the Lions in tough games.