Men’s Basketball Slips Past Grand Canyon
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa – It wasn’t always comfortable and it certainly wasn’t easy, but Penn State picked up a much-needed 85-76 win over Grand Canyon Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center as part of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off. The Nittany Lions’ (2-1) scrappy win over the Lopes (0-2) capped off a tricky stretch of three games in five days.
“Without having three guys [Josh Reaves, Davis Zemgulis, Isaiah Washington], freshmen had to play a lot of minutes,” head coach Pat Chambers said. “They willed us to that victory, those eight guys that played tonight.”
One of those star freshmen, small forward Lamar Stevens, shined particularly bright, as he finished with a team-high 19 points and shot 5-5 from the free throw line. Stevens was joined in double figures by Payton Banks, Tony Carr, and Shep Garner.
However, the players with the most impact in this game were the boys in the paint. Julian Moore had six points on three putback dunks while freshman Mike Watkins had three clutch blocks in the second half to go with his nine points. The duo combined for 15 of the team’s 38 rebounds as well.
“I was really happy for Julian,” Chambers said. “To get nine rebounds was big. He gave us a spark off the bench and we sorely needed it. You could see our tanks were on empty a little bit for a couple of stretches.”
“[Watkins] was great, he’s our mother hen,” Garner said. “He protects the paint, he rebounds, he blocks a lot of shots. It’s great having him out there in the back of the defense.”
Freshman Nazeer Bostick also notched seven points in his first career appearance.
“He’s been waiting his turn and he took advantage of his opportunity today,” Garner said. “I was very proud of number four. I’ve been talking him up all week and he took advantage. Hopefully he keeps it up.”
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came with just under two minutes remaining, as Garner was able to force a Grand Canyon turnover and put up an easy transition layup to give the Lions a six point lead and essentially ice the game.
“I just wanted to make a play,” Garner said. “We went over their side OB, so I kind of knew what was going on. I just jumped the play. I wanted to go out there and finish the game off.”
Five Grand Canyon players finished in double figures. The high scorer was shooting guard Joshua Braun, who finished with 25 points on 6-15 shooting and 5-10 from beyond the arc.
“We fought. We’ve got a young team and some new guys,” Grand Canyon head coach Dan Majerle said. “We just have to keep our heads up and keep working as hard as we can.”
The road gets tougher for Penn State this upcoming weekend, as they travel to Connecticut to take on No. 1 Duke on Saturday. It will be Penn State’s first game against the top-ranked team in the country since an 85-47 thrashing by Kentucky in 2012.
“It’s going to be a great test for us,” Chambers said. “To see where this program is, where we’re headed, if we’re headed in the right direction. I think we are and it’s going to be great to see on Saturday how we respond.”
Tom Shively is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.