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Hot First Half Helps Penn State Basketball Storm Past St. John's, 92-76

by on December 18, 2016 5:36 PM

Penn State (7-5) traveled to Madison Square Garden Sunday to take on St. John’s (5-7) as part of the 2016 Holiday Festival at The World’s Most Famous Arena. The Nittany Lions came into the game on a two-game losing streak, while the Red Storm were upset by LIU Brooklyn last week. Even though St. John’s leading scorer Marcus LoVett returned to lineup after missing three games, Penn State took care of the Red Storm with a 92-76 win.

How It Happened

Kassoum Yakwe opened up the scoring for St. John’s after a combined seven misses from both squads to start. Both teams seemed a little tight in the first couple minutes of an unusual 11 a.m. tipoff, but Shep Garner knocked down a pair of threes to get Penn State’s offense rolling.

Penn State ran a 1-2-2 zone press picking up the ball handler just before half court to delay the Red Storm in getting into its offense early. After St. John’s knocked down four early field goals from beyond the arc, Pat Chambers made the adjustment to have Penn State drop into a 3-2 zone defensively after its half court press to limit the Red Storm's outside shot opportunities.

St. John’s switched to a 2-3 for a couple of possessions, which is something that Penn State might see more of in the future if it continues to struggle shooting the ball from outside. But Sunday was a different story for the Nittany Lions shooting the ball. It seemed as though everything Penn State threw up went in during the first half. Chambers’ squad cashed in nine three-pointers — mostly from Garner and Payton Banks — in the first half.

Penn State went into the locker room with a 52-29 lead over St. John’s with Garner leading the way with 15 points, including four made threes. The Nittany Lions really took control of this game in the back end of the first half as it closed the frame on a 35-5 run. The Lions took care of the ball, committing just six turnovers to the Red Storm’s 11.

With the second half underway, St. John’s went to a full-court trapping press, which gave the Nittany Lion guards fits. In the first eight minutes of the second half Penn State had double the number of turnovers it committed in the entire first half. St. John’s turned the game into a frantic pace, and the Nittany Lion guards appeared to be in a little bit too much of a rush trying to beat the press, leading to turnovers.

Despite the turnovers, Penn State still shot well from the floor in the second half which was key in weathering the Red Storm. Once Penn State figured out how to effectively beat the press about halfway through the half, its offense was surgical. The Nittany Lions shredded the Red Storm defense through backdoor cuts and Mike Watkins’ post-ups.

Watkins continued his solid season so far, posting another double-double wth 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“When [Watkins] is engaged, he really gets us going,” Chambers said about Watkins’ defensive presence.

He also had three blocks in the game, which puts him in a tie for second in the nation in total blocks this year. Penn State knocked down 13 total threes and had a great distribution in points scored with five players reaching double digits.

Player Of The Game

Shep Garner | Guard | Junior

The junior scored a team-high 21 points. His two early threes set the tone for the game offensively for the Nittany Lions, and Garner stayed hot throughout the day. Despite fouling out late in the game, he shot 7-12 from the field, including 6-9 from behind the arc. Garner also added four rebounds and three assists in the win.

What’s Next

Penn State returns home to the Bryce Jordan Center for its next game on Wednesday against Morgan State. Tipoff at the BJC is scheduled for 5 p.m.


Dylan Coughlin is a writer for Onward State.
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