Hot First Half Helps Men’s Basketball Storm Past St. John’s 92-76

Penn State (7-5) traveled to Madison Square Garden Sunday to take on St. John’s (5-7) as part of the 2016 Holiday Festival at The World’s Most Famous Arena. The Nittany Lions came into this game on a two-game losing streak, while the Red Storm were upset by LIU Brooklyn. Even though St. John’s leading scorer Marcus LoVett returned to lineup after missing three games, Penn State took care of the Red Storm with a 92-76 win.

How It Happened

Kassoum Yakwe opened up the scoring in this game for St. John’s after a combined seven misses from both squads to start. Both teams seemed a little tight in the first couple minutes with the unusual 11 a.m. tipoff, but Shep Garner knocked down a pair of threes to get Penn State’s offense rolling.

Penn State ran a 1-2-2 zone press picking up the ball handler just before half court to delay the Red Storm in getting into its offense early. After St. John’s knocked down four early field goals from beyond the arc, Pat Chambers made the adjustment to have Penn State drop into a 3-2 zone defensively after its half court press to limit the Red Storms outside shot opportunities.

St. John’s switched to a 2-3 for a couple of possessions, which is something that Penn State might see more of in the future if it continues to struggle shooting the ball from outside. However, today was a different story for the Nittany Lions shooting the ball. It seemed as though everything Penn State threw up went during the first half. Chambers’ squad cashed in an outstanding nine three-pointers — mostly from Garner and Payton Banks — in the first half.

Penn State went into the locker room with a 52-29 lead over St. John’s with Garner leading the way with 15 points, including four made threes. The Nittany Lions really took control of this game in the back end of the first half as it closed the frame on a 35-5 run. It also did a great job of taking care of the basketball, only committing six turnovers in the half compared the Red Storm’s 11.

With the second half underway, St. John’s went to a full court trapping press to attempt to cut Penn State’s advantage. The Red Storm press gave the Nittany Lions’ guards fits as the team had double the amount of turnovers in the first eight minutes of the second half than it did in the entire first half. St. John’s turned the game into a frantic pace, which Penn State should be more than able to comply with, but the Nittany Lion guards appeared to be in a little bit too much of a rush trying to beat the press, leading to turnovers.

Despite the turnovers, Penn State still shot well from the floor in the second half which was key in weathering the Red Storm. Once Penn State figured out how to effectively beat the press about halfway through the half, its offense was surgical. The Nittany Lions shredded the Red Storm defense through backdoor cuts and Mike Watkins’ post-ups.

Watkins, who putting together a solid season so far, posted another double-double tallying 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“When [Watkins] is engaged, he really gets us going,” Chambers said about Watkins’ defensive presence.

He also had three blocks in the game, which puts him in a tie for second in the nation in total blocks this year. Penn State knocked down 13 total threes and had a great distribution in points scored with five players getting double figure scoring.

A great team performance on both ends of the floor propelled Penn State to its seventh win of the year, beating St. John’s 92-76 behind Garner’s team-high 21 points.

Player Of The Game

Shep Garner | Guard | Junior

The junior out of Roman Catholic high school scored a team-high 21 points against St. John’s Sunday. His two early threes set the tone for the game offensively for the Nittany Lions, and Garner stayed hot throughout the day. Despite fouling out late in the game, he shot 7-12 from the field, including 6-9 from behind the arc. Garner also added four rebounds and three assists in the win.

What’s Next

Penn State returns home to the Bryce Jordan Center for its next game on Wednesday against Morgan State. Tipoff at the BJC is scheduled for 5 p.m.

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About the Author

Dylan Coughlin

Dylan is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism at Penn State. Growing up near Philadelphia, he's a life-long Philly sports fan who #TrustsTheProcess and thinks the Sixers will run the league in five years. You can follow him on Twitter @DCoughlin25 for some okay content or e-mail [email protected].

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