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Greg Lee, Jevonnie Scott Give Penn State Hoops New Frontcourt Threat

Last season, Penn State men’s basketball possessed just one established presence on the low block within its previously constructed guard-heavy roster. During Pat Chambers’ lengthy run at the program’s helm, Penn State struggled to find production at the four and five spots on the floor, aside from the record-breaking services of Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins.

When Micah Shrewsberry first arrived in State College last March, the former Big Ten assistant set out to accomplish two feats on the recruiting trail ahead of his initial campaign in Happy Valley: Retain the team’s cornerstone in John Harrar and find a pair of quality forwards molded similarly to the array of star big men he mentored at Purdue.

Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, Shrewsberry landed pledges from a combination of upperclassmen transfers in Greg Lee and Jevonnie Scott. The two high-profile forwards fit the same role as Mason Gillis and Aaron Wheeler, who both served as dangerous playmakers in the low post for Shrewsberry’s fourth-seeded Boilermakers a year ago.

Before Penn State’s 22-day COVID-19-induced hiatus, Lee saw action in just one contest coming off of a preseason foot injury suffered in practice. Furthermore, Scott was awarded his second taste of regular-season action in Sunday’s conference loss to Ohio State, a game in which he showcased his explosiveness for the first time in a Nittany Lion uniform.

Since the return of Lee, the Nittany Lions have won three of its first six conference games for the first time since 2017. Now, with the added minutes from another rim enforcer in Scott, Shrewsberry believes his squad can continue its steady improvement in the paint and on the glass.

“Coming out of Christmas, one of our big deals was rebounding,” Shrewsberry said. “We needed to be a better offensive rebounding team. Our shot volume was a huge deal. We made shots, we were shooting good percentages, [getting] effective field goals, and everything else, but were just not getting enough cracks at it. So, we’ve kind of made the conscious decision to play bigger at the four and the five.”

Through the first nine regular-season matchups, the Nittany Lions grabbed just over 8.5 offensive rebounds per outing in a largely lackluster non-conference slate. Dating back to Lee’s first in-game appearance against No. 19 Michigan State in December, the Illinois native’s prowess has increased the team’s rebounding output to 9.3 offensive boards each contest, with the boost in production coming against far superior competition in Big Ten play.

Aside from his impact on the glass, Lee’s scoring ability ranks of equal importance to his team’s unexpected in-conference start. After posting 13.3 points per game as a senior at Western Michigan, the former All-MAC selection is inching his way towards becoming his pre-injured self.

Following a steady nine-point, eight-rebound performance against the Buckeyes, Lee is now averaging a pedestrian 7.2 points per contest. Although declines in scoring are typically attributed to inefficient shooting, the rangy forward is playing almost five minutes per matchup less than he did with the Broncos.

As the season progresses, Shrewsberry is confident in Lee’s ability to continue his heightened load on the court, which will only increase his tally in the scoring column.

“Greg’s gotten us some easy baskets,” Shrewsberry said. “Scoring, posting up, and scoring the basketball, so it kind of takes some pressure off the other guys who are trying to make a play every single time. Now, you can throw it to him, you throw it to John [Harrar], they can both score with their back to the basket. You need to get easy baskets, especially in conference play. You have to score around the rim, and those guys allow us to do it.”

Despite the small sample size, Scott’s offensive role gives the Nittany Lions an uncommon combination of size and quickness. At 6’7″, 252 pounds, the former junior college product stands as the heaviest player on Shrewsberry’s depth chart, but, unlike most post specialists at his size, not many can explode toward the rim as Scott showed in Columbus.

In two games, the Canadian has registered only 12 minutes of action, but similarly to his fiery two-handed slam in the face of coveted opposing center Zed Key, the majority of his talented repertoire remains to be seen by those outside the Bryce Jordan Center’s home locker room.

“For being new, he’s still out of position,” Shrewsberry said about Scott. “I play him out of position out of necessity a little bit, but you still haven’t seen everything that he can do. He’s a really good passer. He can handle the basketball. I know yesterday we ball screened for him, and he came off and turned the corner and dunked it. He’s going to be able to do more and more things. It’s just hard when your first game comes in the middle of January when everybody else’s first game was in November, so they’re comfortable in terms of what they’re doing.”

With 13 conference matchups looming in the balance, the room for the tandem’s improvement is nearly as vast as the number of games they missed in the early-season slate. Starting with the unit’s next matchup against a talented Minnesota squad, both Lee and Scott will be tasked with defending physical forwards in Jamison Battle and Eric Curry.

Additionally, the potential void of leading scorer Seth Lundy will likely force both forwards to increase their output in minutes and points. While it’s more difficult to measure improvement through the gauntlet of conference play, Shrewsberry knows his two low-post veterans will continue making strides towards reaching their potential.

“He’ll get better as we go on, and he’s got time to get better,” Shrewsberry said about Scott. “I think our team will continue to grow and get better as [Jevonnie] and Greg get more comfortable [and] get back to their playing styles.” 

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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