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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After just three days off, Penn State men's basketball is set to return to the court, hosting George Mason Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Monday afternoon, head coach Patrick Chambers met with members of the media to preview the matchup, while also wrapping up Saturday's win against Wright State.
Among positives from veteran leaders and newcomers, Chambers made a quick note regarding contributions from Mike Watkins, especially surrounding his surging shot blocking ability.
Entering the week, Penn State is ranked fourth nationally and first in the conference with 57 blocks, with Watkins accounting for 33 of the team's total. With at least two blocks in every game this season, Watkins logged a career-high eight blocks in the win against Wright State. The sixth-highest total in single game in program history, Watkins' eight blocks are the most since Calvin Booth had nine in 1999.
"He's doing a really good job protecting the rim," Chambers said. "We're pressuring the ball a little bit more and he's doing a good job of waiting and waiting - and he gets off the floor really quick. He has great hands and I think that really helps him."
Individually, Watkins is ranked fourth nationally and atop the Big Ten standings with 3.67 blocks per game.
Watkins' timelessness has made all the difference, giving those around him an added confidence boost.
"You might miss an assignment or get blown by but you know Mike is behind you covering the basket," Tony Carr said.
Not surprised by his impressive total this year, Carr can recall some uneasiness heading into high school matchups against Watkins.
"Even back in high school I used to hate playing against Mike just knowing that he's a great shot blocker and that always messes with the guard," Carr said.
On the other side of things, Chambers noted that turnovers have become a point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions.
"Live ball turnovers are a killer right now and offensive rebounding, we've got to do a better job," Chambers said. "Even though there's dead ball rebounding, I still feel like we're giving them another possession that we can't afford."
In the early part of a season where the framework surrounds a more up-tempo pace offensively, the key to limiting turnovers simply involves keeping true to simple, solid and efficient play, not trying to make everything on the highlight reel as Chambers puts it.
It's all part of the growing process for the Nittany Lions though, as they prepare to play their 10th game in nearly a month on a 4-0 winning streak for the first time since the early part of last year's nonconference slate (Nov. 24-Dec. 5).
"This is such an amazing process," Chambers said. "Where we started that first game on a Friday to where we are now. It has flown by, but we've definitely gotten better."
Quick Look at the Patriots
Both Penn State and George Mason will put a pair of winning streaks on the line Wednesday. The Nittany Lions have won their last four straight, while the Patriots have each of their last five, most recently taking down Mercer, 79-68 at home.
Three reached double digits for the Patriots in the win against Mercer led by 21 points from leading scorer Marquise Moore, who's averaging 17.3 points per game. Moore added 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double through 10 games. Otis Livingston II finished second on the team with 17 points, including a 4-for-4 showing from the free throw line. Livingston II boasts a .958 clip from the charity stripe, at 23-for-24 on the year, which ranks seventh nationally.
Following Wednesday's game, Penn State will hit the road, traveling to Newark, New Jersey to take on Pittsburgh in the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Prudential Center. The double header event will feature Notre Dame and 2016 NCAA national champion Villanova in the first matchup of the day. The Nittany Lions and the Panthers will meet for the 146th time in program history in the first outing between the two teams since 2013. Pitt is out to a 6-2 start this season, set to host Buffalo Wednesday, Dec. 7.
On The Quote Board
Carr said that a major adjustment in his transition from high school to Penn State has been the addition of strength training, noting that he wasn't really one for weight training in high school. When asked to compare the strength training of Roman Catholic teammate Lamar Stevens, Carr was all smiles.
"To be honest I don't know how his body got like that," Carr said. "I feel like he just woke up one day and he just looked like the Hulk or somebody, he definitely touched more weights than me in high school."
More from Carr below.
By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Josh Reaves isn't exactly a 3-point shooter.
In his freshman season Reaves took 39 three pointers and made just three. He hadn't made one this season coming into Tuesday night's bout with Georgia Tech.
He couldn't have picked a better time to make his first.
After the Yellow Jackets pulled within two points with 2:07 to play, head coach Patrick Chambers called a timeout for Penn State to quell Georgia Tech's momentum.
On the possession following the stoppage, Reaves received a pass in the corner from Shep Garner with the shot clock winding down. Without hesitation Reaves fired from beyond the arc, and hit nothing but net to stretch the lead to five with 1:40 remaining.
"We give them the confidence to make that three at the end," Chambers said. "He made a good read and the play was a little bit broken and he shot it with confidence, which is terrific for him and his confidence moving forward."
"We congratulated him in the locker room because that was a huge shot," Garner said. "It is great to have him back because he brings a lot for us. I'm proud of him."
On Georgia Tech's next possession, Reaves made a steal on a tipped pass and finished a layup on the other end to essentially seal the game for the Nittany Lions. Penn State went on to win 67-60.
Reaves finished with nine points on 4-for-7 shooting and added five rebounds and four steals in 25 minutes off the bench. The sophomore guard missed the first five games this season due to injury but is starting to make an impact with his athleticism and length.
While he may not always fill up the scoring sheet, Reaves' presence is heavily felt on both sides of the court in a bevy of ways.
"Josh's length really hurt them," Chambers said. "We held Quinton Stephens to two points in the second half and for us to hold down Josh Okogie, he is a big part of that."
Okogie was coming off a stellar 38-point performance against Tulane, a Georgia Tech freshman record. With Reaves limiting him most of the night, Okogie shot just 5-for-21 from the floor and managed 13 points. He was averaging 19 points per game before Tuesday, which was the third highest mark in the ACC.
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech's second-leading scorer, was also held in check in the game. Lammers averaged 17.6 before Tuesday but mustered just 12 points against Mike Watkins, who recorded a team-high five blocks in the game. Watkins also recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"I go out there and act like no one will score more points than me," Watkins said. "It was just great that I stopped him and I brought my team up with some blocked shots."
Penn State held the Yellow Jackets to 36.4 percent shooting from the floor. The Lions tallied 11 steals and forced Georgia Tech into a season-high 17 turnovers on the night. They scored 24 points off those turnovers.
"We're doing a nice job of turning teams over," Chambers said. "We took those turnovers and put them into points and we produced, which is really important for us especially when we're not shooting well."
Garner led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Freshman Lamar Stevens added 12 points, nine rebounds and a few emphatic dunks.
It was a closely-contested game from start to finish, as neither team ever led by more than eight points. There were nine lead changes and the score was tied six times in the game.
The key deciders of the contest were Penn State's 12-point advantage in points off turnovers and Reaves' first 3-pointer of the young season in a clutch spot.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Chambers said. "We did not shoot the ball particularly well and we still found a way. That's really encouraging."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Earlier this week, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers noted that he expected more veteran leaders to emerge for the Nittany Lions as the season continues, calling upon both Terrence Samuel and Payton Banks, in the wake of a few standout performances from Shep Garner.
Wednesday against Colgate, it was Banks and Garner who came out to set the tone early for the Nittany Lions, scoring all nine of the team's points in the first six minutes of the game off of 3-pointers. Banks went 2-for-2 during the opening stretch with back-to-back triples.
Penn State struggled to build on the advantage though, as Colgate took advantage of the stalling offense to go up by as many as six, 21-15, with 5:26 remaining in the first half.
Regrouping, it was freshman Tony Carr who provided the spark with a layup followed by the and-1 to kick off a 15-2 run that sent the Nittany Lions into the locker room with a seven-point lead, 30-23, at halftime. Banks added his fourth triple of the half down the stretch to match a career-high mark.
By the second half, junior Terrence Samuel emerged, as the UConn transfer came off the bench with six of the team's 14 points in the early part of the frame, as Penn State grew its lead to double figures, 44-33.
Colgate managed to trim the gap to four twice more, but Carr and Garner continued to shift the momentum with a pair timely treys. With the Nittany Lions leading by five, 56-51 with 5:23 remaining, another 3-pointer from Garner followed by a bucket from Samuel pushed Penn State back into double digits, 61-51, as the Nittany Lions did not let the lead dip below nine for the remainder of the game.
Banks, Samuel, Carr and Garner all finished with double figures, led by Banks' second career 20-point outing. Banks shot 6-for-12 from the field while also shooting 4-for-9 from behind the arc. Samuel scored all 16 of his career-high points in the second half, while also grabbing five rebounds.
For Chambers, it was the confident performances from both Banks and Samuel that made all the difference in spelling the relatively quiet offensive output from the freshmen class as a whole.
"That is huge for us when the freshmen are playing like freshmen," Chambers said. "So you are able to go to some veteran guys, two redshirt juniors that you trust. Payton has been in the program four years and Terrence is still new to it, but he has been on the big stage. The freshmen need to rely on those guys."
All together, starters Banks, Carr and Garner finished with 44 of the team's 72 points, but add in Samuel and that's nearly 85 percent of the total scoring.
The four also accounted for 10 of Penn State's season-high 11 triples, which are the most since the Nittany Lions had 11 in a 56-55 win against Nebraska last year.
Sophomore Josh Reaves came off the bench for the Nittany Lions after missing five games due to an injury. With give points, four rebounds and steal, Reaves' presence was maximized by the energy he brought to the court - which didn't go unnoticed by his teammates and Chambers.
"That just shows you the leadership he has and the energy he came off the bench with," Banks said. "I feel like that really sparked us. I feel like we came out a little dull and when he came in the game it was automatic life. That is what we need from him."
Penn State hits the road next, traveling to Washington D.C. to square off against George Washington Saturday, Nov. 26 at 4 p.m. in the Smith Center. The Colonials are 3-2 on the year, coming off of back-to-back losses against Georgia and UAB earlier this week in the CBE Classic.
Check out more from Banks and Samuel postgame below.
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.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After closing out the opening stretch of the season with a 2-1 mark, Penn State basketball is back in action, heading to Uncasville, Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at Mohegan Sun.
The Nittany Lions are set to square off against top-ranked Duke in the first semifinal, marking the first time Penn State will take on a No. 1 ranked team since 2011.
Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers met with members of the media Thursday to preview the weekend, while also taking a quick look back at the five-day stretch.
Offensively, the Nittany Lions are surging, with a total of five Nittany Lions averaging double figures. Led by 17.7 points per game from freshman Lamar Stevens, Penn State has matched its targeted 80 points in all three outings, averaging nearly 83 points per game to date.
Stevens has also been impressive from the free throw line at 23-for-25 on the year following a 12-for-13 showing against Duquesne and a perfect 5-for-5 mark against Grand Canyon.
Chambers also noted he has been pleased with ball distribution as the Nittany Lions head into the weekend having tallied at least 20 assists in back-to-back outings against Duquesne and Grand Canyon for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Through three games, Tony Carr, Shep Garner and Terrence Samuel all have double figure assists. Carr's leading the way with 14 assists, averaging 4.6 per game, coming off of a career-high six assists against the Lopes.
As Chambers was quick to point out though, the positive offensive numbers a certainly terrific for an offensive minded person, but not necessarily the best representation of all around balance.
"Rebounding is a major concern of mine right now, we have to do a much better job in that area right now," Chambers said.
Penn State has not outrebounded its opponent in any game this season with Julian Moore's nine boards against Grand Canyon as the Nittany Lions' single game high this year.
Postgame against Grand Canyon, Chambers stressed that his solution would be a larger emphasis on gang rebounding, but that's also part of the learning process, especially with a relatively young team.
"I've done more rebounding drills than I've done in the past five," Chambers said "We just have to get the younger guys to understand because they are incredible athletes, they don't think they need to do it. Now after three games, they see."
Looking back on those three games, the Nittany Lions are ready to move forward to the next tough challenge, which could potentially bring matchups against at least two Top 25 ranked opponents on consecutive days this weekend.
The focus through the midpoint of the week though isn't placing all the focus on one team or one weekend, but rather what's ahead in the big picture with the Big Ten season drawing closer each week. Getting there all starts with working on habits and the simple things.
"Our focus is on Penn State and getting Penn State better," Chambers said. "We worked on us today, we have great teams obviously at this tournament, so it's going to be great to see our guys to see what we need to do and where we need to go."
Looking at Duke
At 2-1 on the year, the top-ranked Blue Devils enter Saturday's matchup coming off of a 77-75 loss to Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic.
Averaging 88.3 points per game, Duke is shooting just below 50 percent from the field. Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard at averaging at least 17 points per game with Allen leading the way with 17.7 per outing.
"They're shooting the heck out of the ball from three right now," Chambers said. "From two, they have a very good percentage. They're getting to the free throw line. They're shooting - they're making more than their opponents are even attempting. They are doing some great things and they're doing exactly what Coach K wants his team to do."
Another area Chambers pointed out, the Blue Devils' potent perimeter defense. On the year, Duke has limited its opponents to a .148 clip from behind the arc, holding its opponents to 2.7 3-points per game.
The second Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament game Saturday features No. 21/22 Rhode Island and No. 24/25 Cincinnati. The winners of each semifinal will advance to Sunday's championship at 12:30 p.m., with the losers meeting in the consolation game at 3 p.m.
By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State men's basketball's Patrick Chambers met with members of the media ahead of the 2016-17 season opener, the sixth-year head coach acknowledged an early challenge awaiting the Nittany Lions.
Three games in a span of five days.
For the first time in program history, Penn State saw three freshman starters in its opening night lineup, as Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins all suited up for their first official outing in the Blue and White.
Trailing Albany 41-25 at the half, Penn State saw its comeback effort fall short as junior Shep Garner made three free throws to pull the Nittany Lions within three with 17 seconds remaining before time expired. Garner led the team with 25 points, while four others joined him in double figures, including the trio of newcomers.
Back at it for game two, the Nittany Lions got out to another slow start, but rebounded with an impressive second half to take down Duquesne 82-74. Penn State shot 48 percent from the field on the night and 6-for-9 from 3-point range in the second half on the way to its first win of the season. Stevens and Carr highlighted the Nittany Lion offense with a pair of 20-point performances, as 72 percent of the team's total scoring came from the freshman class.
Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions came out firing, scoring 48 points in the first half, the most since putting up 49 against Penn in 2008.
Grand Canyon wasn't going away quietly though, trimming a double digit Penn State lead to as as few as five with less than a minute remaining. It was Garner though, who ultimately sparked the final push, swatting an inbounds pass to collect the steal before following with a bucket to lift the Nittany Lions to a gritty 85-76 win. Garner scored 14 points as one of four to finish with double figures, while Stevens led the team for the second consecutive game with 19 points.
"I found out a lot about my team," Chambers said postgame against Grand Canyon. "They dug deep, they got back to the middle of the ring, punched back, and we took the lead."
Opening the season with three games in five days, Chambers is pleased with the decision, now looking back. The Nittany Lions now prepare to shift their focus toward a pair of back-to-back matchups on the road in Uncasville, Connecticut, beginning with top-ranked Duke Saturday.
"I wanted to play these three games to prepare us for this weekend," Chambers said. "I know that we're going to have a lot of freshmen on the floor and I thought it was important for us to get the uniform on, be in the arena, get the families here and get the jitters out. Then really get a good look, gauge, where are we exactly."
Chambers' full press conference following the win against Grand Canyon below.
With yet another test looming, here's a look at a few more takeaways from the fast and furious start to the season.
Postgame following the Duquesne win, Chambers noted that his staff would continue to work with redshirt junior Julian Moore, in the hopes that he might be able to contribute with more minutes on the court. Chambers simply told Moore to remain confident, and that certainly paid off as he finished first on the team with nine rebounds against Grand Canyon, adding two blocks and six points in 20 minutes of action.
"I was really happy for Julian," Chambers said. "To get nine rebounds was big, he gave us a big spark off the bench. We sorely needed it. You could see it. Our tanks were on empty a little bit for a couple of stretches."
An Immediate Impact
On simply numbers alone it's easy to see the immediate impact of the Nittany Lion newcomers, led by leading scorer Lamar Stevens, who's currently averaging 17.7 points per game. Between Stevens, Tony Carr and Mike Watkins, the trio has accounted for 131 of Penn State's 248 points to date, or 53 percent of the total offense.
Carr and Stevens were also the first freshmen to tally 20-point performances in a single game since Freddie Barnes (24) and Monroe Brown (32) did so in 1989.
Then add in Nazeer Bostick, who played in the Lock Haven exhibition before coming off the bench against Grand Canyon to log seven points, two rebounds, one assist and a steal.
"I have great confidence in him now to put him in a game," Chambers said, noting that Bostick showed physicality and toughness against Grand Canyon. "He did not fear the moment at all, which is just tremendous because he really hasn't played the first couple of games. He was prepared."
Watkins has also shown tremendous talent, as a physical presence and an exceptional shot blocker. He notched five blocks per game in back-to-back outings against Albany and Duquesne before totaling three against the Lopes.
"It's great, he's our mother hen, veteran Shep Garner said following the win against Grand Canyon. "He protects the paint, rebounds, blocks a lot of shots and he gets it done. It's great having him out there in the back of the defense."
On media day, Chambers said that the goal for the team heading into the season was to score 80 every game. The Nittany Lions have checked that box so far, averaging 83 points per game on the year. While Chambers is pleased with the offense, there's still a few wrinkles to iron out.
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