Men’s Basketball Drops Season Home Opener to Albany
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, the Penn State men’s basketball team dropped its first home season opener since 2004 to the Albany Great Danes, 87-81.
Veterans struggled to find their rhythm early against a scrappy UAlbany defense. What Albany lacked in size in the frontcourt they made up for in speed in transition.
In his Nittany Lion debut, Mike Watkins came out hungry from the gate defensively with three blocks, but momentum slowed as Penn State struggled to transfer their energy into the offense. Watkins got the Nittany Lions on the board, but a 4:24 scoring drought allowed UAlbany to pull ahead 9-6 with 11:54 left in the first half.
The Great Danes were able to go on an 11-2 run over 6:26, and take a 20-8 lead with 9:34 left to play.
“They executed really well. They were tough and they were physical. We knew that coming in,” head coach Pat Chambers said. “Our inexperience showed.”
Despite being the team’s returning leading scorer, junior Shep Garner struggled to lead the Nittany Lion offense, leaving the opportunity open for freshmen Philadelphia native Tony Carr. Carr, who helped lead Roman Catholic high school to back-to-back PIAA-AAAA State Championships, was able to put up five early points and provide a much needed spark.
Shooting 30 percent from the field, Penn State began the full-court press, but the Great Danes maintained composure and continued to push the floor. The Albany bench combined for 12 points in the first half, compared to the Nittany Lions one point.
With 3:45 left in the first half, and Albany up with a 31-19 lead, Carr hit one from beyond the arc, but players continued to struggle down the stretch against the 2-3 defense.
Payton Banks, the 2015-2016 second leading scorer, was 1-5 from the field.
“I made my fair [share] of mistakes,” Banks said. “We didn’t come out with enough energy and that’s why we weren’t making shots.”
Penn State went into the locker room trailing 25-41 and Chambers said the team needs to understand that the “team needs to start playing from the jump-street.”
The second half started out with Banks and Garner hitting back-to-back three’s which seemed to liven up all aspects of Pat Chamber’s team. With 17 minutes left to play, Garner hit another three to make the score 34-45.
At a little over the halfway mark, Carr and Banks hit another set of back-to-back three’s just before a Garner no-look dish to Mike Watkins who was able to slam it home down low, making the score 48-62.
Albany continued to battle in transition, with scoring from sophomores Joe Cremo and David Nichols, which helped to fuel Watkins down low.
Albany committed three turnovers over a 1:48 span and with 8:17 left to play, and the Nittany Lion offense continued to come alive with a three from beyond the arc from Banks.
Offensive momentum continued with an and-1 in transition from Carr, making the score 58-67 with 7:04 left to play in the half.
Albany got into the bonus somewhat early allowing Penn State to pull within 10 with 5:02 left to play.
Garner had a steal with 3:30 left to play and drove down the lane against two defenders to lay the ball in and make the score 66-76. A steal from Washington opened up Garner beyond the arc and he knocked down the three, followed by another layup to bring the Nittany Lions within five.
With just under three minutes left to play and the score 71-76 in favor of Albany, a quick jumper from the Great Danes’ Nichols put them up 71-78. Garner then powered himself into the paint for an and-1 cutting the lead to 74-78.
To put it simply, Garner and Banks later attributed his sudden spark to the defense.
“In the first half, we didn’t let our defense and our rebounding dictate the offense,” Banks said. “Once we started doing that in the second half, we started making our shots and that’s what made the difference.”
A steal by Watkins could not be capitalized on as Carr was called for a walk. Albany gained possession and Penn State was forced to foul, putting them in the bonus. The Great Danes were able to execute at the free throw line, going 20-25 overall.
“I thought every guy that was given an opportunity tonight played hard, but our guys can’t be satisfied,” head coach Will Brown said. “I want these guys to enjoy this and I’m excited to go back and break down this film.”
The Nittany Lions are set to take on Duquesne Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Tia Pattillo is a junior majoring in psychology neuroscience. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.