By: Matt Bortner ESPN Radio 1450 Reporter
An exhibition game made perfect sense for Penn State this season, their first since the 2013/14 season. As everyone knows, this team is young and full of talent. For any team with such youth, the best way to get better is experience, no matter the competition. The exhibition against Lock Haven was exactly what Patrick Chambers wanted and expected for his squad. In their 91-65 rout, Chambers was pleased with how his team played in front of a crowd for the first time.
“I feel like there was a lot we could take from that, approach and mindset is always important to me,” said Chambers. “And getting them in front of their family and friends.”
The Nittany Lions showcased their ability to get up and down the court. An up paced tempo which is to be expected from Penn State throughout the year. A tempo which Chambers would like to lead to 80 plus points a game.
The regular season opens Friday night with Albany. The Great Danes are coming off a 24-9 season in which they finished second in conference and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament. Chambers is familiar with Albany head coach Will Brown form Chamber’s days at Boston University. He expects to play a well-coached team that is big and quick.
It will be important for the Nittany Lions to get off to a fast start and wear down the Great Danes, who only go eight or nine deep. Penn State will have to do that for at least the first three games without sophomore swingman Josh Reaves. Reaves sustained a lower leg injury in practice and will be reevaluated next week. Certainly a blow to the Nittany Lions early on, Reaves figures to be one of the key cogs to Penn State’s success this season.
Against Lock Haven, the Nittany Lions struggled mightily from beyond the arc. The Nittany Lions hit just three shots from deep on 18 attempts, all from Shep Garner. All of those three pointers came in the second half with Penn State missing all nine trays in the first. Despite the misses they shared the ball well and had open looks. According to Chambers the misses were unlike the team’s ability to shoot in the offseason and is not too concerning.
Returning to the lineup is junior Payton Banks who missed the Lock Haven game due to a lingering hamstring issue. Banks return should help with the early season loss of Reaves and shooting woes. Last season, Banks finished third on the team in scoring with 9.4 points per game.
“To have him back is going to create more space for our point guards and our guards to get downhill and make plays for others,” Chambers said. “We’re looking forward to having a healthy Payton and hopefully he can compete on Friday.
The excitement for freshman forward Mike Watkins continues to grow after his 15 point and nine rebound performance against Lock Haven. For now, Watkins will continue to come off the bench. Part of that reason is because of Watkins on floor chemistry with UConn point guard transfer Terrance Samuel.
“We wanted to keep those guys, as often as we could, on the floor together,” Chambers said. “Again, it gives us that fight, that hunger, that toughness that we wanted off the bench.”
That chemistry is very palpable for Samuel.
“That is something that we developed last year as we sat out and played a lot together in practice,” said Samuel. “We made the team good I feel, and prepared them for the games.”
It has been long awaited but a breath of fresh air for Penn State basketball officially begins Friday night.
Tip off is set for 7 P.M. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 on ESPN Radio 1450.