Wheeler Leads 12-Point Comeback, Nittany Lions Win First Game Under Ferry
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After a delayed opening to the 2020-21 campaign, Penn State put a dash in the win column, defeating the Virginia Military Institute 86-65 Saturday afternoon at an empty Bryce Jordan Center in interim head coach Jim Ferry’s debut.
Ferry wasn’t exactly pleased with the way things began in the opening period, as former Penn State player and assistant coach Dan Earl and his VMI Keydets took a 12-point advantage, due much in part to 15 points from senior guard Greg Parham.
But a 15-3 Nittany Lions run late in the first half and a costly 13 turnovers by VMI set up senior guard Jamari Wheeler for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, giving Penn State a 37-35 halftime advantage and a big momentum swing. In the second half, the Nittany Lions scored 49 while giving up just 30.
“[Winning] was a big deal for us,” Ferry said in the postgame. “With that said, it looks like we haven’t played in 300 days.... I thought we struggled early... [but] I thought we did a good job in the second half of bearing down.”
Wheeler was all over the court Saturday afternoon. He had one of the best games of his collegiate career, leading the way in points with 18, 3-pointers with four, and steals with five.
His squad stole the ball a combined 18 times, the most ever for the blue and white, as the Nittany Lions played small and quick with four guards and a forward for most of the contest.
Junior transfer Sam Sessoms had an impressive debut with 12 points and four snags in 28 minutes played, as he displayed his craftiness to drive inside, while fellow Philadelphia native Izaiah Brockington used his athleticism to record 15 points and grab eight rebounds.
Wheeler was impressed with the small-ball play of his teammates, and he liked that Sessoms felt comfortable with his new team quickly.
“[Sessoms] is a dog,” Wheeler said. “He came in and was aggressive on defense and had four steals today... We have multiple weapons on the team. It could be a different person each night.”
The forwards filled in nicely as well. Senior big man John Harrar did his job protecting the glass, as he recorded nine boards, while sophomore Seth Lundy filled in some of the gaps from Lamar Stevens’ absence by scoring 12 and switching on defense with ease.
Penn State’s most blatant issue was shooting. The Nittany Lions shot just 34% from the field in the first half, while making just 11 of 36 attempts from beyond the arc in total. Ball movement and play design looked crisp and efficient, but finishing the job around the rim was inconsistent.
Earl’s squad, meanwhile, only had two players score in double figures, as Parham put up 21 and sophomore Kamdyn Curfman scored 17 with five 3-pointers.
Ferry wants as many of his guys as possible to put up double digits every game, like five of his players did Saturday.
“When you have [that ability], you’re a tough team to guard and a tough team to scout,” Ferry said. “That’s when we’re a pretty threatening basketball team offensively.”
As they improve to 5-1 all-time over VMI, the Nittany Lions will look forward to taking on 2-1 VCU on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in University Park for their next contest.
Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Jack McCune is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Yardley, Pennsylvania, which is outside of Philly and just across the Delaware River from New Jersey. He attended Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. He’s a huge fan of the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, Penn State football and Penn State basketball. He’s a sports anchor and multimedia reporter for the Centre County Report. He’s a Football Insider for CommRadio. His talk show, Broad Street Bros, airs Thursday nights at 5:45, as he talks about Philly and Penn State sports. He hopes to some day become a play-by-play announcer for football, basketball and/or baseball, and he is also interested in becoming a bartender.