Tony Carr’s Re-Emergence Could Spark Penn State
With Lamar Stevens’ and Mike Watkins’ phenomenal recent performances, Penn State basketball seemed to finally find the right combination to help support star point guard Tony Carr. Stevens has ten straight games of ten or more points, while Watkins has 11 consecutive ten-point showings.
What happened next is quintessential Penn State basketball. Carr, the most talented player on the roster, hit the roughest shooting patch of his young career. Over the past ten games, the sophomore has shot less than 26 percent from the field in half of them. In all of those matchups, Carr took at least 13 shots, including three nights where he shot the ball more than 20 times.
Over that timeframe, Carr is shooting 34.6 percent from the field. The Roman Catholic graduate seemed to bottom out during the last four games prior to Minnesota, making just 31 percent of his shots while turning the ball over 13 times.
In Penn State’s win over Nebraska, Carr went 1-for-11 on his shot attempts in the second half. Penn State’s 16-point second half lead disappeared, as the Huskers forced overtime at the Bryce Jordan Center. Carr broke out suddenly in the extra period, scoring nine points and becoming the hero by burying the game-winning jumper with three seconds remaining.
That win was massive for the Nittany Lions, as the loss to Minnesota slotted their record back down below the .500 mark at 3-4 in Big Ten play. Carr couldn’t put up a strong start in the opening half of Monday’s overtime loss to the Gophers, making only 30 percent of his shots.
After halftime, the point guard inspired a fierce Penn State comeback. A 13-point deficit was erased by another big shot from Carr. His three-pointer tied the game with three seconds left, and the sophomore went 6-for-10 from the field in the second half and overtime. The Philly native tied his career high with 33 points, while turning the ball over just twice in his 43 minutes on the court.
Tony Carr became the leader of the team and the Nittany Lions’ biggest star very quickly. Young, star players often face difficult stretches at this point in their development. Talor Battle’s numbers gradually improved with each season he played in the BJC, and Carr’s numbers as a sophomore going through a slump still currently exceed Battle’s junior year stats.
More importantly, Carr seems to be trending away from the slump that has plagued him through the middle of this season. Without Josh Reaves for the last three games due to a suspension, Stevens and Watkins have done everything they could to will the Nittany Lions to victory. Watkins has five straight double-doubles and is leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage, making more than 70 percent of his shots. Stevens scored a career-high 30 points in Penn State’s 78-63 win against Northwestern, then proceeded to score 20 and 26 points, respectively, in the next two games.
If Watkins and Stevens continue to play like this, and Carr truly breaks from this poor shooting spell, Penn State will be dangerous. Plus, the return of Reaves will put the Nittany Lions right on the cusp of being a top-six team in the Big Ten. Nazeer Bostick’s improved play in Reaves’ absence adds to this team’s potential. If the rest of the bench can finally start to contribute, Pat Chambers might finally be able to get over the NCAA tournament hump.
However, we already know what happens if Carr isn’t able to dominate for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s record in the last ten games in which Carr’s performance dropped off was 5-5, with all of the losses coming against beatable competition. Stevens and Watkins scored in double digits in every game during that stretch, and yet the Nittany Lions only managed mediocrity.
And that’s all we can expect from Penn State basketball until we’re proven otherwise.