UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On the heels of his 40th consecutive start in the Blue and White, Penn State's Shep Garner has not only proven that he's back for another season to power the Nittany Lion offense this year.
One of three top returning scorers from a year ago, Garner is already out to a blazing start, leading the team with 16.0 points per game. Highlighted by a pair of 20-point performances, Garner most recently logged 20 points against Cincinnati, following a 15-point outing in a close setback against top-ranked Duke.
For Garner though, a new year presents another added challenge outside of lighting up scoring column, as a talented freshman class presents an opportunity for Garner to step into a true leadership role.
Through six games, there has been no shortage of key Shep Garner moments. Looking back a few weeks, it was Garner who pulled the Nittany Lions within three with a trio of free throws against Albany with 17 seconds remaining.
Against Grand Canyon, it was Garner again, picking off the Lopes for a steal before finishing with a bucket to spark the final push down the stretch for the win. A big moment and a key play by the junior captain, as Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers described postgame.
As Chambers noted earlier this week though, Garner's growth as a leader has not simply been fashioned through his on-court success. Rather, it has come through a mature and professional approach to the little things. Leading by example.
From cold tubs and visits to the training room, to an emphasis on eating right and putting in extra time in the weight room, Garner's actions are leading the way in his development as a leader.
"He's one of the hardest workers on the team," Chambers said. "His actions are really showing it."
In a tough weekend on the road at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, Chambers described moment after moment where Garner's leadership translated into a vocal presence on the court, rallying the team in a rough start to the opening half against then-No. 24 Cincinnati.
"He got after them and I felt like they responded," Chambers said. "He got after them in the locker room at halftime and I felt like they responded coming out in the second half, playing much better basketball."
Arriving home to look toward Colgate in Penn State's sixth game in the last two weeks, Chambers stressed that the road to success this season is a process that will take time. Although a work in progress, Garner's emerging presence as both a potent point-scorer and an all-around leader is exactly what the Nittany Lions need, especially with so much youth on the roster.
"We need that type of leadership," Chambers said. "I think that's one thing - other than offensive rebounds, that's another thing we need right now from him, Terrence [Samuel] and Payton [Banks] to guide these younger guys, showing them that you cannot take possessions off."
The Nittany Lions are set to welcome the Raiders to for a Thanksgiving eve clash at 7 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center. Colgate enters the matchup at 1-2 on the year, coming off of a 74-68 loss to NJIT last weekend. Penn State and Colgate are set to square off in the 75th all-time meeting between the two team, but just the second since 1980. Playing their fourth of a string of five consecutive road games, the Raiders have returned nearly 70 percent of their offensive production from last year, currently led by junior Sean O'Brien who's averaging a team-high 12.7 points per game.