Garner, Foster Lead Small-Ball Youth Effort for Penn State Basketball

Before the season began, Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers praised his team’s significant experience, especially down low.

D.J. Newbill, now fifth in the country in scoring, has certainly backed Chambers’ claim, and Brandon Taylor has shot his way out of a mid-season slump. But down low, Ross Travis’ 4.8 points per game and 5-of-29 free throw shooting, coupled with Donovon Jack’s incessant inability to avoid foul trouble, has Chambers restructuring his lineup with a focus on the exact opposite: youth and speed.

And now, as Penn State looks to win its second Big Ten game in a row Wednesday evening against Minnesota after dropping its first six, Chambers will look to two program newcomers to take the reigns: true freshman guard Shep Garner and junior college transfer Devin Foster.

“He’s going to run the show,” said Chambers Monday afternoon of Foster. “I’m pushing Shep to the two and D.J. to the three.”

Chambers clarified that that doesn’t mean Foster has claimed the starting job, but very well could if he earns it in practice. Still, that’s a big change for someone who was playing JUCO ball this time last season and had only logged 13 minutes and two points in Penn State’s first 17 games.

Chambers surprised many when he opted to start Garner at point guard for Penn State’s season opener, but said following that game that Garner earned the position weeks prior in practice. It could be the same for Foster, who, if he starts, would enforce a small lineup and three-guard strategy that would counteract Penn State’s oft-incompetent bigs.

“He’s got to play great defense, get some deflections, get some rebounds like he’s done. He’s got to be a facilitator, set the table for guys, get us some shots,” said Chambers, naming off a lengthy list of responsibilities that will challenge Foster. “He’s got to take care of the basketball, make the right plays, attack it when we we’re supposed to attack it, pull it back when we’re supposed to pull it back. That’s what a junior point guard needs to be doing for us.”

In the 41 minutes he’s played in the past three games, after only appearing scarcely in three of the first 17, Foster has shot 5-of-6 from the field, and racked up seven rebounds and five assists. The mid-season spark was in many ways similar to that of John Johnson’s a year ago, who after sitting the season’s first 12 games due to transfer restrictions, burst off the bench for 20 points in his first outing.

But now it’s Foster replacing Johnson, whose indefinite suspension doesn’t look to be ending in the immediate future. Chambers said Monday he didn’t have a timetable for his return.

Newbill had big praise for Foster before the season began, especially in his passing ability off the pick and roll.

“Devin is a pass-first point guard,” Newbill said on Monday. “Me and Shep can spot up at the three. Devin adds another dimension to our team.”

Foster’s also proven the ability to make seemingly impossible shots. At his breakout party at Michigan State last week, a game that saw Penn State play small and almost win, Foster hit this back to the basket jaw-dropper.

“The one at Michigan State, that was kind of crazy,” Newbill said with a laugh. “But he makes tough shots.”

Penn State hosts Minnesota on Wednesday at 7 p.m., looking for its second-straight Big Ten victory.

Photo: Bobby Chen/Onward State

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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