Penn State Hoops Looks For Balanced Offensive Consistency In Newbill’s Wake
Penn State basketball’s all-everything guard D.J. Newbill scored in double figures in every game but one last season. It was a remarkable achievement not just in regards of his output (20.7 points per game), but for its consistency. Night in and night out, Big Ten road game or cupcake pre-conference home tilt, Newbill reliably carried the load for Penn State.
His worst performance of the year, three points on 1-6 shooting, predictably resulted in the Nittany Lion’s ugliest loss of the year (and there were many), a 60-39 drumming at Northwestern. Suffice it to say, Penn State lived and died by Newbill’s production.
But now Newbill has left to navigate the waters of Euro leagues, and two of Penn State’s most experienced returning starters — point guard Shep Garner and forward Brandon Taylor — will be asked to fill much of the scoring void that Newbill left. To do that, they’re looking to assume the quality that defined Newbill’s career, and has plagued other Nittany Lion scorers: consistency.
“I think it’s really just consistency,” Taylor said, referencing his summer practice focus at Penn State’s preseason media day. “I worked on getting my shot back and being consistent with that. I also worked on fundamentals of course.”
Both Taylor, a senior, and Garner, a sophomore, showed promise in their first season as prominent starters. Their points per game were nearly identical (9.2 vs. 9.1), accounting for the second- and third-highest on the team behind Newbill. But inconsistency plagued them both.
After a pre-conference season that saw him consistently score in the high teens — including 17 in Penn State’s most complete win of the year against George Washington — Taylor struggled down the stretch, posting double figures just once in his final eight games. Taylor’s three-point clip of 33 percent slumped in the middle of the season, and at times he relied too heavily on the long ball instead of using his 6-foot-6 frame to post up down low.
Garner, in his first game as a true freshman, tallied 14 points against Morgan State in the season opener. Four more consecutive games of double digit scoring followed, as did talks of Garner as the next great Nittany Lion point guard. But as ill-advised three-point attempts and turnovers rose, Garner’s production fell. He too struggled from inconsistency as the season wore on.
This year, they’ve both worked hard to change that trend.
“Being consistent and making sure that I’m doing everything right day-by day,” Garner said of his preseason mindset. “Setting a good example for my teammates and just trying to get better everyday.”
In Newbill’s absence, someone will need to consistently contribute. It’s a clear reality to coach Pat Chambers, who’s looking to his sophomore point guard to set the tone.
“I expect Shep to be more consistent,” Chambers, a former point guard, said of Garner. “We have to tap into his leadership, but I think most importantly for me and him, that we stay attached at the hip and he brings a consistent effort every single game. Whether he is making threes or not, he has to be real consistent for us.”
Garner acknowledged that fact, but suggested Newbill’s departure may not be the Penn State basketball disaster that it appears. Garner said that at times, with Newbill in command, the Lions became a bit of a one-trick pony, and defenses had to only stop No. 2 in order to cool the offense. This year, a more balanced attack could prove a greater defensive challenge.
“With the scoring being spread out it will hopefully make us harder to stop,” he said. “Last year we were a little bit easier to stop at times, but this year it is going to be way more spread out so we should be better offensively.”
Along with Garner and Taylor, the Nittany Lions return the explosive Devin Foster and three-point threat Payton Banks. Isaiah Washington’s redshirt season is over. But it’s the trio of true freshman — Josh Reaves, Mike Watkins, and Deividas Zemgulis — who are the true wildcards offensively.
If they’re anything like Chambers’ description, Penn State may have no trouble dividing Newbill’s offensive production, be it this year or the next.
“I mean Josh [Reaves] is everything that you’ve read about or wrote about and then some, Mike [Watkins] is everything you thought he was — just an incredible athlete who is blocking shots, rebounding and owning the glass. And Davis [Zemgulis] drills threes out of nowhere,” Chambers said with his patented enthusiasm. “It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to see.”