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Zach Hicks’ Recent Efficiency Leading To Penn State Hoops Success

Heading into the 2023-24 season, Mike Rhoades was tasked with filling out his roster of mainly transfer players. While key gets like the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Ace Baldwin Jr. and fifth-year big man Qudus Wahab headlined the group, one player was a “wild card” heading into this season.

Zach Hicks, a 6’8″ junior forward from Camden, New Jersey, was a dominant sharpshooter during his first two seasons at Temple, drilling 141 threes in 60 career games for the Owls. During those two seasons, he led the team in three-point field goals and was considered one of the best shooters in the American Athletic conference.

When he decided to enter the transfer portal after two seasons with Temple, Penn State instantly became one of the favorites to land the forward and added a three-point shooting big man to its rotation.

Hicks was a starter from day one, and in the first three games, he finished with multiple double-digit scoring performances. His defense was a question mark, but as the season went on, Rhoades and Co. felt that it would improve.

During an 11-game stretch from the middle of December to late January, Hicks averaged 4.5 points and had multiple performances scoring three or fewer points.

Then, things changed for Hicks. During the Nittany Lions’ first matchup against the Indiana Hoosiers, Hicks dropped a season-high 19 points. He helped Penn State win that game, and since then, he’s been a constant offensive option for Rhoades’ squad.

“Zach practices hard. He’s very coachable,” Rhoades said. “Even when he wasn’t shooting well, he didn’t break away from this routine. He stuck with it. He believes in himself. We believe in him. [We’re] just really proud of that approach that he’s had.”

Since the Indiana game on February 3, Hicks has finished with double-digit points in seven consecutive contests, averaging 15 points per game in that span. His three-point shooting has been a big help, as he’s hit 50% or better from beyond the arc in five of the seven games.

Amid the streak of success, Rhoades continued to emphasize Hicks’ ability to shoot and grow from his mistakes. He praised his ability to stick with what he and the staff are trying to teach him.

“Early in the season, I was struggling, but you know, I never lacked confidence,” Hicks said after a February 8 victory over Iowa. “Coach, they always told me to stay confident and you know, finally, it’s coming together.”

With the loss of Kanye Clary, Hicks continues to score and be a viable option for Penn State moving forward, but on top of that, his defensive play has vastly improved since the start of the year. His rebound numbers, especially on the defensive end, have gone up, and his ability to play on-ball defense is enhanced.

“Well, it’s a great example. It’s why you never quit on a kid, right?” Rhoades said. “His defensive rebounding right now has been huge for us. But he just looks confident out there he’s put the ball on the floor and getting some other guys shots. That’s why you keep working with guys. That’s why you get extra shots with him. You spend time with them.”

One of the biggest moments from this recent streak is when he helped the Nittany Lions come back to beat No. 12 Illinois during the “Return To Rec” game. Hicks was fouled shooting a triple and sunk all three free throws to put Penn State ahead, helping it pull off the upset.

It was a clutch moment for the forward who proved to the program that he could show up for his team in the biggest moment of its season.

“Going back to Temple last year, I will hit shots that will lead to someone else hitting the game-winner,” Hicks said. “I think they’re just as important as the game-winner. I think I’m clutch.”

Penn State has seen its share of up-and-down moments, and Hicks has been a reason for lots of them, but as the season rolls down, the forward is hitting his stride in Happy Valley.

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About the Author

Matt Brown

Matt is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in sports studies from Bensalem, Pa. Matt is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and an overall sports fan in general. When not watching sports, you'll find him taking down any Dollar Dog challenge or rewatching the Big Ten Maps Commercial. To reach him, follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @matt_brown63, or email him at [email protected].

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