There’s always something special — if not strange — about holiday break basketball at the Bryce Jordan Center. In places like State College that depend on the university for most of its population, the campus and downtown can seem like a ghost town when students are away. So it was when the two thousand people still left in Happy Valley converged on the BJC to watch two sub-.500 basketball teams go at it before a good meal and a day off of work tomorrow. Suffice it to say the Bald Eagle High School pep band was the loudest bunch in the arena.
Special, yes, but mostly strange.
There was nothing strange or atypical about Penn State’s slow start, however, at least for how the early season has played out so far. And certainly nothing special. Coming off of two consecutive losses aginst ranked opponents, the Nittany Lions struggled initially from inside the 3-point line against perpetual Patriot League basement dweller Colgate. Slow might not be a strong enough word — the Nittany Lions failed to hit a shot from inside for the first 11 minutes 16 seconds of the game. Nine points from behind the arc in the first 10 minutes by junior forward Payton Banks kept Penn State in it as the team tried to find its shot.
Penn State’s shot would heat up somewhat and go on an 15-2 run to end the half. When the dust settled, Penn State took a 30-23 lead into the locker room, led by 13 points from Banks and 7 points from freshman guard Tony Carr. Still, the Nittany Lions managed to shoot only 28% from the floor, including an abysmal 4-21 from inside the arc.
The second half began much like the first. Penn State came out shooting just 3 for its first 12 from the floor. A timely three-pointer from Carr and an and-one from sophomore guard Josh Reaves going into the under-16 timeout kept Penn State out in front with a single-digit cushion. For awhile, it seemed like every bucket Penn State made was answered by Colgate freshman forward Will Rayman, who finished with 28 points and shot 10-16 from the field, including 5-8 from three.
The Raiders would cut Penn State’s lead to 4 late in the second half, but after back-to-back threes from junior guards Terrence Samuel and Shep Garner, the Nittany Lions never looked back. Its lead fluctuated into double digits for most of the final minutes. Despite shooting only 34% from the floor (well below its 42% season average), Penn State ended up on top by a 72-59 final score to improve to 3-3 on the season.
Turnovers would prove to be much of the difference, as the Nittany Lions committed only 9 to Colgate’s 17. Penn State also led the rebounding game, winning on the boards by a 43 to 31 margin. Banks dropped a season-high 20 points — including 12 from behind the arc — with Samuel close behind at 16.
“I never go into games saying I’m going to score 10 points or 20 points,” Samuel said after his season-high. “I just want to be that junkyard dog and come in and cause havoc.” (Banks could be heard howling in laughter at the “junkyard dog” moniker after the press conference.)
Of note, Reaves made his season debut after suffering lower-leg injury in the late preseason. He played a solid 17 minutes with 5 points and 4 rebounds, but head coach Patrick Chambers his stat line didn’t reflect the extent of his contributions.
“He brings us so much fire and engery and juice,” Chambers said. “You need that, especially with a young group.”
Penn State is back in action in Washington, D.C. on Saturday against a beatable 3-2 George Washington. The game tips off right after the start of the potentially Big Ten East-clinching football game, but nonetheless, it gives the Nittany Lions a chance to improve its non-conference record against a solid opponent.