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Penn State vs. Fairleigh Dickinson Preview: Let’s Make it Two in a Row!

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The Lions are playing their second game in three days. Plus, Mike Watkins is back!

NCAA Basketball: Campbell at Penn State Linsey Fagan-USA TODAY Sports

Would you look at that? Try as they might, the Nittany Lions didn’t fall apart in their opening game against Campbell on Friday, and they start the campaign 1-0 thanks in part to a career-high 33 points by Tony Carr. With Fairleigh Dickinson on deck, it will be up to Carr to get more players involved, as only he and Josh Reaves scored in double figures in the opener. We expect more out of Lamar Stevens and Shep Garner going forward, but the biggest boost might come from Mike Watkins, who is returning to the starting lineup on Sunday after sitting out the Bahamas tour, the two exhibition games, and Friday’s game due to academic issues.

Scouting the opposition

Last year’s Fairleigh Dickinson team rushed out to an 8-1 start in NEC play before losing eight of its last nine league games to finish at 9-9 with a first-round exit in the conference tournament. In 2017-18, head coach Greg Herenda could have been bringing back a hungry and experienced group, but his second and third leading scorers, Stephan Jiggets and Earl Potts Jr. left the program during the offseason. Furthermore, the team’s leading scorer from season, the All-NEC second team guard Darian Anderson, is out indefinitely with a stress fracture that he suffered during the summer.

Without their senior leader on the floor, the Knights lost their opener 90-68 to local opponent Seton Hall. Returning juniors Mike Holloway Jr. and Darnell Edge led the underdog’s effort with 13 points each, while freshman point guard Jahlil Jenkins helped out with eight assists in his FDU debut. Another freshman, Noah Morgan, scored 10 points off the bench in just 14 minutes.

Last year’s Fairleigh Dickinson team excelled at turning its opponents over and preventing open three-point looks on defense, but we’re still expecting the Nittany Lions to improve on their 26-percent mark from behind the arc against Campbell.

What to watch for

Can Carr get a little help? Penn State shouldn’t need Tony Carr to go into hero mode this early in the season against mid-major opponents, but Friday’s result might have been ugly if not for the sophomore’s career-high scoring effort. Against Fairleigh Dickinson, look for Lamar Stevens to get more involved after he struggled in the opener with eight points and six turnovers. Also, the return of Watkins should help to eliminate the opponent’s second chances.

Stop fouling so much? Another thing that shouldn’t happen against mid-major opponents: fouling out in less than 30 minutes. It took Stevens just 28 minutes to commit five fouls and disqualify himself against Campbell, and then Jamari Wheeler did him one better by fouling out in just 15 minutes. How does that even happen to a perimeter defender? Hopefully Wheeler and Chambers will find out and correct the issue right away.

Can the Lions get Garner going? Based on his play in the Bahamas and the exhibition games as well as against Campbell, Garner is going to take a large percentage of his shots from beyond the arc. If that continues, it would be nice for him to connect on some of them. Last year, he made 36-percent of his three-pointers, which isn’t great for someone who is a three-point specialist. Garner started off 2017-18 with a 2-for-8 performance, so hopefully he heats up a little bit against the Knights.

Prediction

After that opening performance, it’s tough to pick the Lions to blow anyone out, but I’m thinking they play a lot sharper in their second regular season game. Specifically, I’m looking for a big game from Stevens, who was such an important player in the second half of 2016-17.

Penn State 87, Fairleigh Dickinson 63