Pat Chambers had a lot to be proud of Monday night, as his Penn State men’s basketball team had arguably one of their most complete performances of his coaching tenure.
Underneath the bright lights of an NBA arena, the Nittany Lions never looked phased. Six different players scored double figures, as they dismantled the rival Pitt Panthers 85-54. Tony Carr and Shep Garner were drilling three-pointers, Mike Watkins was Euro-stepping, and Josh Reaves tormented the Panther backcourt all night defensively.
Now, the Nittany Lions find themselves in the championship game of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The 16th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will meet Penn State at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, in what’s undoubtedly the most important non-conference game on the Nittany Lions’ schedule. With a 5-0 start and a weak non-conference schedule after tonight’s game, this is Penn State’s chance to get a marquee win on national television.
If Penn State wants to break their six season-long NCAA Tournament drought, they need wins like this to bolster their resumé. Other Big Ten contenders like Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin have already blown opportunities against Power-5 competition early this season.
Tonight’s matchup brings a daunting task for the big men of Penn State: stopping Robert Williams and Tyler Davis.
Williams, a 6-foot-10 240-pound sophomore, is one of the best prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft. ESPN currently lists him as the sixth best available player among all potential prospects for next June.
Following a suspension that caused him to miss his team’s first two games, Williams poured in a double-double off the bench last night. His 11 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks were highlighted by the fact that he made his first five shots from the field –– all of which were dunks.
Even if Mike Watkins and company can slow down Williams on the low block, that doesn’t solve their problem. Tyler Davis (no, not this Tyler Davis) brings a lot to the table at center for the ranked Aggies. The same height as Williams, Davis weighs 265 pounds. That frame has enabled the junior to average double digit points in each of his three seasons so far. Through the first three games this season, Davis is averaging 13.7 points and nine rebounds per contest.
When only one of these players is on the floor, Penn State won’t have to worry too much. However, when Davis and Williams are paired up, it’s hard to imagine who can step up and guard whoever Mike Watkins doesn’t take. Watkins should be able to hold his own, but can Lamar Stevens, Julian Moore, or Satchel Pierce really pick up the slack on the second big man?
The eye-test would say no. However, “eye-tests” would not have predicted Penn State’s blowout win last night, and anything can happen on any given night. The challenge is even greater when the two Aggie big-men are paired on the floor with leading scorer DJ Hogg.
At 6-foot-9, Hogg is nearly impossible to defend. He’s a sharpshooter, can handle the ball, and is really able to do a lot of work behind-the-scenes for Texas A&M. He put up 18 points against Oklahoma State on Monday, thanks to a 4-for-7 performance from beyond the arc. Hogg is shooting 13-for-20 (65%) from three-point range to start the season.
While Stevens, Reaves, and Nazeer Bostick will likely handle the duties of defending Hogg, that puts even more pressure on Pierce and Moore to step up off the bench. Moore had a solid performance on Monday, with a four point, four rebound performance off the bench. Pierce came just two points shy of his career high on Friday’s win over Columbia, scoring 11 points for the Nittany Lions.
If Penn State hopes to pull off this upset, and take a trophy back to Happy Valley, they will need to protect the paint against the Aggies tonight. If they do, they might just have the resumé-building win that they’ll need when March rolls around.