Penn State Takes Down VMI In Season Opener, 62-50
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball team kicked off its 2015-2016 campaign in front of a crowd of 6,000 with a 62-50 victory over the VMI Keydets Saturday afternoon.
With the loss of guard D.J. Newbill to graduation, the Nittany Lions looked for scoring elsewhere as Payton Banks (12 points) and Brandon Taylor (13 points), Shep Garner (15 points) and freshman spark Josh Reaves (6 points) all made key contributions for the Blue and White.
Nittany Lion great and current VMI head coach Dan Earl returned to the Bryce Jordan Center and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“What an honor it was to be on the sideline coaching with him,” head coach Patrick Chambers said. “He’s such a class act and it was great to have a guy like that come back into our arena.”
Despite a nice homecoming, the Keydets struggled throughout the entire game to find their shooting rhythm.
Penn State came out with fire in the first play of the game with a steal and a dunk from Reaves. Reaves, a four-star recruit out of high school, is a part of a strong freshmen class put together by head coach Patrick Chambers.
“He’s got great instincts and we are lucky to have him. He is going to wreak havoc on a lot of offenses,” Chambers said.
In his first 15 minutes of his Division I basketball career, Reaves tallied four points, two steals, two rebounds, and three blocks.
VMI got on the board early with some initial shots from guard Julian Eleby. Eleby went 3-for-4, with eight points in the first half, but the size of the Penn State big men proved to be difficult for the Keydets to put the ball in the hoop.
“They have a lot of length and that definitely bothered us,” said Earl. “We didn’t shoot well and we didn’t move the ball. The ball was stagnant way too much.”
The Nittany Lions trailed VMI for most of the first half until there was 8:51 to play. A slam from Donovan Jack and a strong 2-3 defense from the Nittany Lions allowed them to go on a 9-0 run with 5:24 left to play in the first half.
The Nittany Lions went into the locker room leading 29-24 at the half.
The second half play opened up with scoring from Garner, Taylor and Banks. Penn State went on an 11-2 run to take a 41-28 lead. Banks was 4-10 from the field and put up a career high 12 points on the day.
“Our goal was to go inside and put pressure in the paint and we did that,” Chambers said. “[Payton] Banks and [Brandon] Taylor were bright spots as far as playing Penn State basketball.”
VMI struggled to penetrate the Penn State defense, shooting a measly 37% from the field. The Nittany Lions led by as many as 20 with 7:58 left to go in the second half.
Old habits started to show in the closing three minutes of play, as the Penn State defense allowed VMI to pull within 12 with perimeter shots coming from VMI’s QJ Peterson and Trey Chapman.
“We need to learn how to finish games,” Taylor said. “It was a great win but those last few minutes, we need to close teams out. Any team can come back at anytime.”
The Nittany Lions will take on the DePaul Blue Demons Tuesday in University Park. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.
Tia Pattillo is a sophomore majoring in psychology neuroscience. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org