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Role Players Key In Penn State Hoops’ Recent Hot Streak

No. 9 Penn State men’s basketball will take the court as a top-10 team in the nation for the first time in 24 years when Illinois comes to Happy Valley on Tuesday night. The Nittany Lions have rode the star efforts of Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, and Myreon Jones to a historic season thus far.

With the absence of Jones throughout the past three contests, though, there has been added pressure for other players to step up. Luckily for Pat Chambers, his role players have been excellent when called upon.

“I’ve learned that next man up is true,” Chambers said.

The head coach highlighted defensive cog Jamari Wheeler as a player who has risen to the occasion in victories against Minnesota, Purdue, and Northwestern.

“I’ve been really impressed with [Wheeler] stepping his scoring up,” Chambers said. “His impact on the game is defending and rebounding, his pace, and setting the table for everybody. Now that he is making the open shot, we become that much more dangerous.”

Wheeler has always been a starter for Penn State, but the point guard was never counted on to score a crucial bucket. Over the whole season, the Live Oak, Florida native has averaged just 4 points per game.

Recently, Wheeler has added to his repertoire. Since Jones’ absence, Wheeler has scored 20 points in three games, most notably an 11-point outing in the Northwestern victory.

Chambers noted that it isn’t just his point guard picking up the slack in the wake of Jones’ illness.

“Myles Dread has stepped up and done some amazing things for us, not just shooting the ball,” Chambers said. “He’s so versatile, the kid needs to know [positions] one through four. He’s a really high IQ kid, and he is doing a lot for us right now.”

Dread, Wheeler, and the rest of the role players couldn’t have begun playing their hearts out at a better time. It’s not often that the second-leading scorer leaves a No. 22 team and returns to a No. 9 squad. The ranking improvement has come off the back of strong three-point shooting, improved rebounding, and the depth at guard position for Penn State.

Once Jones returns to the lineup, Chambers will have the flexibility of easing him in due to the lack of drop off in the nine-man rotation.

Additionally, as adversity inevitably hits in the postseason, the likes of Izaiah Brockington, Seth Lundy, and Curtis Jones Jr. will have more experience due to an extra spot opening up on the floor.

It isn’t known if Jones will return for the matchup against previously-ranked Illinois, and Chambers remains tight-lipped on the subject.

“[Myreon] is still day to day,” Chambers said. “We want to make sure he is as healthy as possible. I am not bringing him back early.”

Whether or not Jones is available to play against the Fighting Illini, the game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 18 at the Bryce Jordan Center. It will be televised nationally on FS1.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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