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Penn State Hoops Beats VMI 86-65 In Season Opener

Penn State men’s basketball won its first game of the season 86-65 over the Virginia Military Institute Keydets.

Jamari Wheeler led the team with 18 points and five steals. Izaiah Brockington added 15 points, while Myreon Jones, Seth Lundy, and Sam Sessoms added 12 points apiece.

The team also finished the game with 18 (!) steals and defensively showed it’s a tough team to hang with. For a team that was mainly talked about with their offense, the defense stepped up in a major way.

How It Happened

Brockington got the scoring going with a second-chance layup after a missed three from Wheeler. After a stellar defensive possession, Wheeler drove into the paint for a score of his own.

In the first several minutes of the game, Penn State had a lot of good ball movement. It was also evident that Wheeler had not lost a step as one of the best defenders in the Big Ten. He had two steals in the first five minutes of the game.

The Nittany Lions missed their first eight threes of the game, and VMI capitalized on that knocking down a couple threes of its own. For a team that is going to rely on three-pointers, it was about the worst start imaginable. Lundy broke the three-point scoring drought with about ten minutes left in the first half.

The issue of rebounding was evident in the middle of the first half, as the Keydets had three consecutive second chance opportunities. The Nittany Lions just could not get to the ball fast enough, and in turn, VMI had more chances to score than it should have had.

Penn State could not buy a bucket even if it wanted to. The team made careless turnovers that led to direct scores for the Keydets, and it doesn’t help that VMI has made more threes, though it attempted fewer.

Sessoms did provide a nice boost of offense as he scored five points in a row, and made one of the few threes that went down for the Nittany Lions. He also led to a big steal and his energy definitely gave the team more confidence towards the end of the half.

The best aspect of this Nittany Lion team was the defense. It had nine steals in the first half, showing how quick this team can be. Sessoms led the team with three, and Wheeler, Brockington, and Lundy each had two.

Wheeler was able to sink a three as time expired to give Penn State a 37-35 lead heading into halftime. At the break, Lundy led the team with nine points, while Jones was second on the team with eight. The defense was also able to cause 13 turnovers in the half while having just six.

VMI got the second half underway with a score, but a Lundy block and Jones layup kept the momentum on their side. Jones, however, had two fouls, and the Nittany Lions lost that momentum again.

One of the underrated parts of Penn State’s defense was the ability to use the shot clock to their advantage. The defense caused three shot-clock violations throughout the game, which, counted with the steals, makes for a real lockdown defense. It was definitely the best part of its game plan for most of the game.

Wheeler hit two threes, which is something that no one was expecting. VMI even dared him to take those baskets, and for the most part, he has answered well to those dares. Brockington also had a beautiful basket that forced the Keydets to call a time out to change the pace of the game.

It should be worth noting that the best offensive line-up for Penn State is also the smallest. Wheeler, Sessoms, Jones, Brockington, and Lundy on the court, with Lundy as the center, has given the Nittany Lions the most offense and the biggest spark.

John Harrar had a series of good plays in a row where he had a steal and a score. Jones then had a steal and score, followed by Brockington with the same thing, and then VMI called a timeout. After the timeout, Brockington rejected VMI with a brutal block, and Harrar added another bucket.

Wheeler was shooting lights-out from behind the arc. He made a dagger coming out of a timeout, helping extend the lead and keep the momentum on the Nittany Lions’ side. He added an assist to Harrar, who had a really nice layup to extend the lead.

All four freshmen got to play in the last two minutes, and they made some really good plays. Dallion Johnson hit a three, and Abdou Tsimbila had a monster block on the defensive end. They all showed a lot of promise, which maybe that will change if they play more than at the end of the game.

Wheeler was just dominating the Keydets with steal after steal, and score after score. He was playing the best game of his career, and if he continues to play like this throughout the season, he may be a top player in the conference. He finished the game with 18 points, five steals, and four rebounds.

The Nittany Lions started the half out slow but managed to pull away for their first win of the season, 86-65.

Takeaways

  • This Nittany Lions defense has a chance to be electric. Those guys are fast, and they put it all out on the court. Jamari Wheeler and Sam Sessoms are forces on the defensive side of the ball. The only issue is that playing on the ball could lead to open shots if they aren’t careful.
  • You live by the three, and you die by the three. Unfortunately, Penn State just struggled to make baskets from behind the arc. If the Nittany Lions are going to compete, they need to make baskets. The fact that they could not make a basket for most of the first half is a problem, and that gave VMI all the confidence it needed to hang in with the Nittany Lions. While they did a much better job in the second half, they may not have that opportunity in future games.
  • Jamari. Wheeler. Who knew he was going to be the best offensive player for the Nittany Lions today? He had a career-high 18 points and made four threes. If he can continue to play like that, he’ll be fun to watch.

What’s Next

The Nittany Lions will play VCU at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 2. The game will be broadcast on FS1.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey is a sophomore from Annapolis, Maryland, majoring in Secondary Education and minoring in Social Justice in Education. When he is not writing for the blog, he enjoys rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, watching way too much Netflix, and yes mom, actually doing schoolwork. If you would like to talk about sports or your favorite tv show, the best way to reach out is on Twitter @theowenabbey. All other compliments may be sent to [email protected]

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