Penn State has shown improvement from last season as it has started the season 5-1, even with the loss in its last game against No. 16 Texas A&M. The play of sophomore point guard Tony Carr was spectacular, as he carried the Nittany Lions in the first half with 21 points. Forward Lamar Stevens, his high school teammate, helped him with the scoring load as he poured in 25 points and had a team-high seven rebounds.
The Nittany Lions scored 87 points on the night and shot 50.8 percent from the floor. Normally that would lead to a victory, but the Aggies put up 98 points on 61.1 percent shooting. The main reason for that was the early foul trouble that redshirt sophomore Mike Watkins found himself in that gave Texas A&M guards like Duane Wilson and T.J. Starks free reign in the paint.
Penn State center Satchel Pierce also got himself in foul trouble, as Texas A&M’s rotation of big men found themselves isolated onto Pierce when he was in the game. The lack of Penn State’s best shot blocker was evident, as Aggies center Tyler Davis used his great footwork on the block to get easy buckets for himself. Forward Robert Williams found himself open for easy dunks as he was able to catch lobs with ease.
Center Julian Moore was exploited by Davis in the first half with a beautiful up and under, while Stevens was caught trying to block Williams, leading to an easy slam. Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers did not double-team the post frequently as he did not want to leave the Aggies open from the perimeter, as D.J. Hogg entered the game shooting over 60 percent from behind the arc. His strategy (somewhat) worked, as Texas A&M only made six three-pointers, but only attempted 12.
Chambers also said that he believed his defenders could play with the Aggies in the post, which was surprising, as Davis seemed to have his way with the Nittany Lions. Watkins and Pierce proved that they were capable of playing defense in the post, but the early foul trouble seemed to have affected them. Moore has always provided Chambers with energy, but he struggles defensively against more technically skilled big men.
An 11-point loss against a solid Texas A&M team is not a bad sign, especially with the big guys in foul trouble and guard Shep Garner struggling from behind the arc. A good early season test in paint is always good for a team that has struggled with rebounding and post play. Friday’s game at home against Oral Roberts will not test Penn State’s depth issues in the frontcourt, but Big Ten play is just around the corner with the conference tournament being moved up a week.
The Big Ten is littered with talented big men as the Nittany Lions’ opening two games feature Iowa’s Tyler Cook and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Cook might be one of the Big Ten’s most underrated players and is coming off of a 29-point game against UAB. Happ has been tearing it up to start the season, as he has scored at least 19 points in his last three games, shooting over 50 percent in each game.
Watkins can control the paint with his shot-blocking ability, but Penn State could be in trouble if he gets himself into early foul trouble. The development of Moore and Pierce as post defenders will be the true sign that the Nittany Lions could contend for a bid in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Chambers’ tenure.