Penn State basketball was a roller coaster ride last season as the team played well in games against Duke on a neutral court, but managed to lose to Rutgers at home. The 15-18 record was not great, but the five game losing streak to end conference play made the season helped make that record possible.
The Nittany Lions enter this year with hype as being a sleeper team in the Big Ten. Veteran leadership from Shep Garner and the play-making ability of Tony Carr gives Penn State one of the better backcourts in the conference. While those two are a dynamic duo on the perimeter, sophomore Lamar Stevens is the biggest mismatch on the Penn State team.
The sophomore out of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia started the season slow, but Patrick Chambers was playing him at the three at a time he had not developed much of a perimeter. Stevens was timid on taking shots from behind the arc, but was aggressive in attacking the basket with 20 free throw attempts through the first two games.
His slow start was overshadowed by the emergence of Mike Watkins on both ends as the big man’s energy and timing helped him block a school record 90 shots. The attention given to Watkins allowed Stevens to grow into his role as a small-ball four, creating havoc for the people defending him.
A Lack of Improvement
The switch did not automatically lead to a greater success from distance as he did not make his first triple until early February against Indiana. His three point shooting was not his major form of scoring against Big Ten opponents as his quickness in the frontcourt provided him with numerous opportunities around the rim. Along with his scoring, his rebounding jumped up as playing next to Watkins allowed for him to grab soft shots off the glass.
Conference play was where Stevens shined on the offensive end as he had three 20 points game including a two game stretch against Maryland and Illinois where he averaged 23 points per game. His post game is good as he uses the proper footwork on his up and under and has the ability to control his body when he spins through traffic.
His inconsistent mid-range game was the only thing that held Stevens back from averaging more than the 12.7 points per game he averaged last season. Stevens’ form looked good, so his shooting should improve next year as he asserts himself more in the offense. Three point shooting was a problem for him as well as he only made 11 all year, though he only attempted 32 making his outside shooting a bit of a mystery.
Stevens hit the freshman wall late in the conference season as he struggled for offense against Minnesota. He finishing the game with a solid 11 points, but on 4-15 shooting from the floor and 3-6 from the charity stripe. That type of shooting game is not going to help Penn State win more games in conference play.
A Possible Turnaround
Stevens ended the season on a high note averaging 16 points a game in the conference tournament and he looks to keep up that form into the upcoming season. If he is able to shoot his threes with confidence, the Nittany Lions could make their first tournament since 2011.