Penn State Hoops’ Athleticism Makes Up For Lack Of Size In Season Opener

The defending NIT champions returned to action on Friday night, as Penn State took down North Florida 87-72 at the Bryce Jordan Center. With a chance to finally watch this new-look Nittany Lion team, playing without suspended centers Mike Watkins and Satchel Pierce, it’s easy to see that the lack of depth in the paint is going to be an issue going forward.

North Florida played six different players who were 6-foot-6 or taller, compared to just four such players for Penn State. This helped the visitors win the rebounding battle 24-16 in the first half, while successfully getting John Harrar into foul trouble early in the game. Harrar, Penn State’s only experienced big man who is available, played just four minutes in the half. The Ospreys trailed by as few as three points with less than eight minutes to go in the opening period of play, yet trailed 40-28 at the break.

The length and speed of Penn State was the reason for this short run before the intermission that extended the lead. Pat Chambers’ squad forced 15 turnovers in the game to go along with five blocks, as consecutive blocks by Josh Reaves and Trent Buttrick helped spur an 11-2 run near the end of the first half.

Defenders flew around the court for the Nittany Lions, holding the Ospreys to an 0-for-13 performance from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes. North Florida ended the game with an 18 percent showing from three-point range, but its ability to score at the rim kept the game within striking distance.

“Number five (Jamari Wheeler), he’s one of the best role players I’ve ever seen in 10-plus years,” North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll said. “He defends, he plays hard, and he does nothing but try to get other guys shots.”

After halftime, North Florida protected the ball a bit better, but the Nittany Lions continued to use their quickness to their advantage. The hosts were able to get to the free throw line all night long against competition that was a half-step slower, making 25-of-35 attempts from the charity stripe.

Lamar Stevens proved to be a major problem for the visiting Ospreys, as his lethal combination of size and athleticism made him nearly unstoppable on Friday night. The junior forward netted 22 points and 10 rebounds, finishing with his third career double-double.

“One of my favorite teams to use is Lamar at the five,” said Chambers. “They can’t catch up to us, it’s really hard, and Lamar doesn’t care where he plays.”

“It allows us to put teams on their heels,” Chambers continued.

However, the Ospreys out of the Atlantic Sun Conference held the advantage in the size column and it showed throughout the game. North Florida outscored Penn State in points in the paint (38-32) and finished with seven second chance points thanks to their 11-9 offensive rebound advantage.

Fortunately for Penn State, the game was never in question due to its superior pace advantage.  The natural ability seems to be in place for this team, with a balanced scoring attack and a stingy defense. Yet, this group won’t be able to play North Florida every game, and Chambers will still need to go back to the drawing board to tweak his team’s strategy in the paint while Watkins and Pierce remain out of the lineup, particularly on defense.

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his role with Onward State, Mitch talks about all the #sprots on Penn State's CommRadio. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him as he yells on Twitter about Penn State basketball @mitchystew.

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