By: Matt Bortner, ESPN Radio 1450 Reporter
A 35-5 run to end the first half, no that wasn’t a Kentucky basketball game. That was what Penn State did Sunday in their 92-76 over St. Johns. The Nittany Lions showered in a season high 13 three pointers against the Red Flash. A light has appeared to come on for the Nittany Lions during their last three halves of basketball. Despite the loss to Pittsburgh, Penn State has outscored opponents 143- 105 in those three halves.
“We definitely took a step,” Chambers said. “I know everyone is going to talk about the threes, but I thought our defense was really good. I thought we defended and rebounded and that really helped the 35-5 run. We were getting stops and making shots. It’s definitely there. You saw a high level team, it’s definitely in us.”
Those threes can’t be understated though. Not only were they a season high, they were efficient. Penn State converted 56 percent of the triples, which well eclipses their season rate of 36 percent.
The question now for the young squad is if they can carry that momentum into the final non-conference game tonight (Morgan State) and the Big Ten Conference slate which begins next Tuesday against Northwestern.
“We need to continue to learn how to play Penn State basketball and to learn how to remain competitive and consistent throughout the 40 minutes,” Chambers said.
With the first semester and finals in the rearview mirror, the team can turn their main focus to basketball. Chambers said that the team is refreshed. Leading up to the victory over St. Johns the team went back to the basics with such drills as diving and charging.
A huge catalyst for the Nittany Lions recent success has been the play of freshmen Mike Watkins and Tony Carr. Watkins is this week’s Big Ten Player of the Week thanks to a 15 point and 13 rebounds performance against the Red Storm. The big man has been everything, if not more of the hype. His three double-doubles this season is the most by a Penn State freshman since 2003 (Aaron Johnson).
Running the show at point is Carr, and he has been a calming influence on the offense. Carr is averaging 11.3 points per game to go along with just under five rebounds and four assist per contest. Sophomore swingman Josh Reaves has been impressed by Carr’s play.
“Tony has an ability to play at his own pace, it can be fast, it can be slow, he can do whatever, and that definitely got us going,” Reaves said. “I think he had six assists or something and he just waits, he waits for the right opportunity and he takes advantage of it.”
Reaves himself is a guy that gives Penn State a spark. His presence was missed the first five games this season due to a knee injury. Reaves says he is getting more comfortable but is still not 100 percent. A good sign of his recovery is that he has ditched the bulky knee brace. Reaves continues to work on his conditioning that was lost during his hiatus, but his ability to get to the rim and cause chaos on the defensive side of the ball is critical.
As it appears that the Nittany Lions are starting to turn the corner, it is important to remember that this team is still young. Bumpy patches are expected, but early season woes and the ability to overcome then can prove beneficial in the long run.
Tonight’s game against Morgan State begins at 5:00 P.M. Coverage begins at 4:30 on ESPN Radio 1450.