Injuries are never good, but injuries to a team’s unquestioned star leader are even worse. The Nittany Lions got dealt a rough hand last night after their sensational sophomore point guard suffered an ankle injury in the second half of a 70-57 victory against Montana.
Here’s a look at the play — it’s pretty clear Carr merely rolled over on the ankle. Depending on the severity — which Pat Chambers hasn’t updated yet — Carr could be out a few days, or potentially weeks.
Pat Chambers says Tony Carr sprained his ankle. Carr wanted to come back, but Chambers decided to sit him. Says severity of the injury is "unknown."
— Onward Sports (@OnwardStSports) November 16, 2017
For the immediate future, the team’s gameplan must be a “next man up” mentality. Sophomore forward and second leading scorer Lamar Stevens knows a thing or two about ankle injuries after suffering one during offseason practice. He also understands the talent on this Penn State team — and why an injury to one man can’t slow the whole unit down. “My teammates and coaches instilled a lot of confidence in me and when Tony [Carr] went down,” Stevens said. “Everybody had to step up, and tonight, my teammates just found me in the right spots and I was able to make my shots. It was a great team win, but everybody stepped up to get the win.”
Chambers said after the game that Carr — who was trying to stay loose on the stationary bike after suffering the injury — wanted to return to action, but had to be reminded that “the long term is much more important than the short term.” While yes, Carr easily could’ve powered through the injury, it didn’t make much sense to mortgage his long term health for a game the Nittany Lions seemingly (and ultimately did) have in the bag.
So, what direction would the Nittany Lions go if Carr can’t return to action for a key early season stretch that includes a neutral-site game against Pitt and a road contest at NC State for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge? For starters, expect a whole lot more Shep Garner, specifically from a shooting standpoint. Garner would likely assume primary playmaking duties while getting the opportunity to let it fly a bit more. If the offense starts with him, expect it to end with Stevens and Mike Watkins in the paint.
Another key contributor is freshman guard Jamari Wheeler — a player who’s made good on his namesake. He’s arguably the quickest player on the team, and at 15.3 minutes per contest, is averaging the most minutes for any freshman on the team. If Carr is limited, Wheeler will get the chance to play prolonged minutes at the point guard position and showcase that speed making cuts to the basket. The only thing for him is finishing at the rim, which he’ll get more opportunities to do.
It’s not encouraging to envision a Penn State starting five without Carr, but there’s certainly hope. This team, unlike some in the past, has scoring options. Those players will need to step up, but all isn’t lost in the early going for a young team hoping to keep momentum rolling as the season progresses.