Garner scores 17 points; Penn State beats Wright State 72-50
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Pat Chambers watched nearly all of the film available on Wright State heading into Saturday.
Penn State’s coach was worried about the Raiders, specifically their ability to shoot 3-pointers with pinpoint accuracy and fill hoops at a clip of nearly 83 points per game. That average took a big hit after Penn State tilted the court decidedly with stingy defense in the Nittany Lions’ 72-50 win on Saturday.
“I probably watched six out of their nine games,” Chambers said. “They can really fill it up. A team like that really scares me, and man, these guys really stepped up.”
Shep Garner scored 17 points, Payton Banks added 15 and the Nittany Lions (6-3) held the Raiders (6-3) to just 16-of-66 shooting. Mark Alstork led Wright State with 15 points while Justin Mitchell and Steven Davis added nine each. Mitchell led the Raiders with 11 rebounds.
Wright State shooters made just 6 of 23 3-pointers but heated up with three in the final seven minutes. By then it was too late as the Nittany Lions led by 27 when Mike La Tulip hit the Raiders’ final 3-pointer with 3:51 left.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the worst offensive output that I’ve ever seen in 22 years,” Wright State coach Scott Nagy said.
Josh Reaves and Lamar Stevens added 12 points apiece for the Nittany Lions (6-3) who won their fourth straight. Tony Carr grabbed 12 rebounds.
The Nittany Lions led for all but 56 seconds and pulled away after leading 29-26 at halftime. Penn State opened the second half with a 13-2 run and steadily increased it as the game wore on. The Raiders weren’t able to cut Penn State’s lead by any more than 13 points and did so when Grant Benzinger tipped in a rebound to make it 45-32 with 14:42 left.
“I thought our team did a really nice job coming out in the second half and basically saying, we’re better than what we showed in the first half,” Chambers said.
BIG MIKE, BIG DIFFERENCE MAKER
Penn State forward Mike Watkins was dominant before foul trouble forced him to spend most of the first half on the bench.
The 6-foot-9 forward grabbed five rebounds, blocked four shots and added a steal in the first seven minutes he played. He finished with eight blocks, nine rebounds, a steal and added eight points. He was 6-for-6 shooting from the free-throw line.
“I’d like to say a lot of times, we have really good defensive possessions and I like to think of myself as a really good on-ball defender,” Reaves said.” But just having Mike behind you, it’s just so comforting. It’s God-given. It’s just a blessing to have him behind us playing defense.”
When Watkins returned in the second half, he continued to foil the Raiders who had little success driving the basket and underneath. They finished with just 16 points in the paint.
STEVENS’ BOUNCE BACK
Stevens’ first half ended poorly. He missed his last five shots, all short or mid-range jumpers and Wright State chipped away at Penn State’s lead in the meantime. Stevens entered the locker room frustrated.
He sparked Penn State’s run in the second half with six of the team’s first 13 points including two nice drives, one ending with a vicious slam dunk between defenders.
“I think that ignited us for sure,” Chambers said. “Lamar was pretty upset about how he finished the half and I talked to him very kindly at halftime and then he said to me, ‘I got you.’ And that’s when I knew Lamar was about to turn it up and really play well. But we need that consistency for the minutes that he’s on the floor.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Wright State: Picked in the preseason to finish in the middle of the Horizon League pack, the Raiders entered the game a game behind Valparaiso and Oakland for the conference’s top spot. They’ll play five of their next six games on the road including the Horizon League opener against Oakland on Dec. 29.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions have four players averaging in double figures and two are freshmen. The balanced scoring has been buoyed by Chambers’ commitment to spread minutes around to keep his players fresh. Eight of 10 Nittany Lions played at least 15 minutes on Saturday and the strategy appears to be paying off with four games left before Penn State begins Big Ten play.
Wright State plays at Loyola of Chicago on Wednesday.
Penn State hosts George Mason on Wednesday.