Penn State Downs Morgan State to Open Season

posted November 15, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Uriah Tagle

It was a successful season opener for the Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) as they defeated the visiting Morgan State Bears (0-1, 0-0 CAA) 61-48 to send the Bryce Jordan Center faithful home happy Friday night. The win was the tenth straight for Penn State on opening night, improving the all-time program mark to 88-30 in season openers.

It was 6’9” junior forward Donovon Jack who scored the first basket of Penn State’s 119th season, with a skillful floater from the right side of the hoop. The shot was the only field goal of the game for the big man, who found himself in foul trouble early and a bit overmatched by the duo of Morgan State seven-footers, Zech Smith and Jordan Omogbehin. Despite the forgettable night, Coach Pat Chambers had nothing but praise for his center in his postgame press conference.

“Donovon went out and won the starting job. That’s what I’m most proud of,” said Chambers. “He went out and earned it.”

Offense was hard to come by for the Nittany Lions as they began the first half, with the Bears jumping out to an early 10-4 lead. Curiously, Penn State’s leading scorer from a season ago, D.J. Newbill was kept off the scoreboard until there were just under eight minutes remaining in the first half.

Trailing 16-11 at the time, Newbill hit a huge three-pointer which seemed to kick start the rest of the Penn State offense, spurring a 25-14 run to close out the first period. At the half, the Nittany Lions had opened up a six-point advantage, leading Morgan State 31-25. Newbill went into the break with a team-high nine points, ultimately finishing the evening as Penn State’s leading scorer with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.

Despite their early lead, Morgan State had trouble scoring in the first half, shooting just 27.8% on 10-36 shooting. Although Penn State had a much more manageable field goal percentage of 41.7%, neither team could get it going from deep, shooting a combined 2-16 on three-pointers before the intermission.

There was speculation throughout the preseason in Happy Valley about who Pat Chambers would use to fill the hole at the point guard position in his first season without Tim Frazier on the roster. Any questions were answered immediately however, with true freshman Shep Garner receiving the start along with D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, and Donovon Jack.

“The kid earned the right to start,” Chambers said after the game. “To be a freshman and come out and play the way he did is great. The future’s bright for him.”
Garner, out of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, had himself a solid debut, efficiently scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting, while tallying two assists and two rebounds as well.

“I was excited,” Garner said when asked about his mindset before the game. “It was like a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to get out on the floor with my brothers.”

The Nittany Lions looked much sharper to begin the second half, with Garner hitting a three right out of the gates to give Penn State a 34-25 lead. Morgan State was never able to find their way back into things or regain the lead, as they showed their inexperience, committing several unforced errors.

The blue and white lead continued to swell as time ticked on, thanks in part to a big second half from Geno Thorpe, who scored eight of his eleven points after the intermission, by relentlessly attacking the basket.

“I felt like Geno came in and sparked us,” said Coach Chambers. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed basketball player, and that’s exactly what we need from him.”

Despite the victory, Penn State committed 18 turnovers in the game, many of which were quite careless. When asked about the substantial turnover figure after the game, D.J. Newbill did not appear concerned.

“Well it was the first game,” Newbill said. “I felt like we were super excited. It’s something we have to work on, just making crisp passes and little things like that.”

Junior forward Cedric Blossom was the leading scorer for Morgan State, scoring ten points and shooting 3-10 from the field. Other standouts for the Bears included junior guard Donte Pretlow, who was a menace on defense, tallying five steals, and senior guard Blake Bozeman, who scored nine while securing four rebounds.

Penn State will continue their non-conference slate on Sunday as they host the Fordham Rams for a 5 p.m. tipoff at the Bryce Jordan Center. ComRadio’s coverage begins with the Penn State Basketball Pregame Show at 4:30.

Uriah Tagle is a senior majoring in communication arts and sciences and economics. To contact him, email uriahtagle@gmail.com.