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Penn State Hoops Downs Dan Earl’s VMI 62-50 In Season Opener

True freshman Josh Reaves, in his first 30 seconds as a collegiate basketball player, poked the ball free from a VMI ballhandler, corralled the loose ball, then coasted to the bucket for a slam dunk.

It set the tone for a defensive-minded effort, as Penn State took care of Dan Earl’s VMI squad, 62-50 in the season opener.

“They gave us a fight, that’s what we wanted for our first game,” Shep Garner, who led all scorers with 15 points, said. “It was great.”

Payton Banks, who Pat Chambers said is Penn State’s best defender, added a career-high 12 points.

It wasn’t all good news, however. Chambers said the NCAA ruled freshman Mike Watkins ineligible for this season. Chambers didn’t divulge many details, but suggested Watkins needs the team to support him “adjust” on and off the court. The missed year should effectively serve as a redshirt season for the forward.

How It Happened

A three from VMI’s Julian Eleby put the Keydets up 3-2, and a string of quick jumpers extended the lead to 10-4, prompting Chambers to call a timeout and calm his clearly flustered young unit. Last year’s rebounding struggles made an unwelcome return early in the first half, as the Lions routinely failed to corral offensive and defensive boards. Free throw struggles and poor perimeter shooting (1-7) — both at times Penn State basketball staples — also were present at times in the first frame.

The Lions’ started three guards in Reaves, Payton Banks, and Shep Garner. But the quick trio struggled to defend on the perimeter, as four VMI first half three pointers (including 2-2 from Eleby) kept the game close. But the early first half jitters soon subsided, and the veteran Brandon Taylor poured in eight first half points. Reaves lightning quickness and pesky defense continue wreaking havoc, and he followed up his first basket with another block turned breakaway score.

With that late first half momentum, the Lions took a 29-24 lead in the locker room after a Garner last-second score.

Banks, a sophomore role player filled with potential and a fine outside touch, started the Lions’ second half scoring with a jumper and followed soon after with a three pointer, allowing the Lions’ lead to balloon to 15 points.

“Payton’s made a big step from last year, he’s like way better,” said Garner. “We need that type of game every night from Payton, because he can do a little bit of everything. We love Payton.”

Penn State’s offensive emergence came just as VMI, which started the game with a streak of buckets, fell flat. During one run that spanned the latter portion of the first half and well into the second half, it half only scored 16 points in a 25-minute span.

A deep three pointer by Garner with 7:58 remaining gave Penn State, which entered as about a 14-point favorite, a 20-point advantage. The sufficient lead allowed Chambers to dip deep into his bench, playing nine players including freshman big man Deividas Zemgulis.

The Lions closed out the victory with Garner (15), Taylor (13), and Banks (12) scoring double figures.

“He earned it,” Chambers said of Banks. “He’s our best defender.”

Player Of The Game

He only scored six points, but Josh Reaves played the most complete game of anyone on Penn State’s roster. His three buckets came on only five shots, and he added five rebounds, two steals, and three blocks in his first career collegiate game.

It in many ways mirrored Penn State’s opening game last season, in which a true freshman named Shep Garner stole the show in his Penn State debut. Much like Garner was last season, Reaves should be consistently called upon this year to provide scoring and defense for a young and small Penn State team.

Brandon Taylor added six rebounds, but his 13 points come on an inefficient 4/14 shooting.

Earl Returns To Happy Valley

A former Penn State basketball standout and assistant coach under Ed DeChellis, Dan Earl is now beginning his first season as VMI’s head coach. Earl and Chambers met prior to the game at midcourt, and Earl, an All-Big Ten guard at Penn State, was greeted with a warm round of applause.

“I spent 12 years here, I root for Penn State constantly,” Earl said. “But we were here on a business trip. We were here to get something done.”

Earl said it was great to see the familiar faces that characterized his time in State College. Unfortunately, his team’s play on the court left the first-year head coach hoping for more.

“I was a little disappointed not in our effort tonight, but in our style of play.”

What’s Next

Penn State’s home again on Tuesday for a 5:00 p.m. matchup against DePaul. The Blue Demons crushed Caldwell by 30 in its opener.

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About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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