UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball used a balanced scoring effort to top Binghamton in an 80-65 nonconference win Tuesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The final score doesn't quite tell the whole story though, as Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers noted he's proud of Penn State's second half effort.
Although the Nittany Lions shot out to a 10-2 lead early, Chambers knew Penn State wouldn't be able to sustain the momentum. As the Bearcats battled back to tie the score and momentarily jump ahead by three on the strength of a Tyler Stewart triple, 19-16, Penn State opted to regroup.
Moments later, Tony Carr connected on a 3-pointer to even the score before a Lamar Stevens dunk sent Penn State back on top. Although Penn State held on for a 39-36 lead at halftime, Chambers remained confident the Nittany Lions would find their footing.
Less than a minute into the second half, Shep Garner ignited a 9-5 scoring streak with a pair of triples that pushed the Nittany Lion advantage to double figures, 53-41 with 15:17 left to play.
Binghamton wouldn't go quietly, narrowing the gap to eight with 5:20 remaining. Penn State continued to look toward its success from the 3-point line as Reaves and Garner connected on three consecutive treys to bolster the advantage back to as many as 15 with fewer than three minutes left in the game.
On the night, Penn State shot 59 percent from behind the arc, marking its best outing since shooting 52 percent in the win at Iowa.
All five Nittany Lion starters finished in double figures, with Stevens leading the way with 16 points. Much to the pleasure of Chambers, the Nittany Lions dished out 17 assists, marking the most in a nonconference game this season, led by a career-high tying nine helpers from Carr.
Perhaps more difficult than digging deep for the win against Binghamton or what's to come against Rider though, is maintaining focus.
"I'm proud of our guys for the second half," Chambers said. I didn't think we played as well, again, Binghamton give them credit, but we were finding ways. This is such a difficult time for our kids, our players, because you have Christmas, you want to go home, nobody's here, there's so many distractions on the outside with the holidays."
Reaves, who finished with 15 points, four assists and two steals, only echoed what Chambers said about the unique time of year.
"It's difficult knowing that break is coming up and people are trying to go home for the holidays and finals are over and people are just so relieved of the stress and everything, so, I feel that it's time to lock in more," Reaves said. "I try to tell my teammates, I know that we're off of school and we have a break but basketball is not over. We still have games to play, practices to do, treatments to go to so, it's definitely difficult."
For Chambers, the remedy to locking in, comes in mindset.
"We just have to stay present," Chambers said. "We have to keep these guys here, spend time with them because we can. Tomorrow, bring them back in, do some cold tubs and some lifting and some stretching and doing some film work, maybe shoot some free throws because we've been going for seven straight days and that's including exams and we looked a little sluggish in the first half. We found a way to win but we have to be smart about these next couple of days and try to keep these guys on task."
That means relying on leadership too, with Chambers pointing to Garner, who made five 3-pointers for the first time since mid-November, with at least four in five of 13 games this year.
"He made big shots but I want him to lead too," Chambers said. "I'm looking for him to really emerge and not let us miss a step here, not let us stub our toe, to continue the process of getting better. Those are the shots that we've seen him make in the past and he'll continue to make them for us."
After a seven-day grind that included a dominant road win at George Mason, Chambers noted there will be a bit of time away from the court, as he'll host the team for a Christmas party at his house tomorrow evening.
It's back to work Thursday though, with practice scheduled before Friday's gameday routine. Penn State and Rider is set to tip at 7 p.m. from the Bryce Jordan Center, with live coverage on BTN.