STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – Every time Rasir Bolton gets the ball in his hands, a familiar voice echoes in his head.
“It’s my Pops,” Bolton said. “Since I was seven, he would just tell me, ‘Shooting is like breathing. Breath in, breath out, bring the ball up, breath in, shoot it, breath out.’”
When he sticks to that, Bolton can make it look easy. The Penn State freshman scored 10 of his 18 points in the first half to help the Nittany Lions beat UMBC 74-52 on Saturday.
Lamar Stevens added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Nittany Lions (7-6) who finished their non-conference slate 7-4. That stretch included a 2-2 mark against Virginia Tech, Alabama, North Carolina State and Duquesne, teams that are 40-8 combined thus far.
“That really put us through a lot of tests,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “That’s why we’ll be mentally and physically ready to head to Michigan and play in the Big Ten.”
The Nittany Lions were ready to play on Saturday, especially after what Chambers called a much needed Christmas break after a loss to Alabama in which Penn State coughed up a 23-9 first-half lead.
“That sits with you,” Chambers said. “They came back and they worked and we got better and there was some physicality and there was some chippiness.”
Penn State carried that edge into Saturday’s game and led comfortably for the entire second half after nine lead changes over the first 12:27. The Nittany Lions took the lead for good midway through the first with a 20-6 run sparked by 3-pointers from Bolton and Stevens. Myles Dread hit another from about five feet outside the arc and the Nittany Lions scored their next nine unanswered to take a 40-27 lead into halftime.
K.J. Jackson led UMBC (7-7) with 16 points.
“Their physicality was the biggest problem on defense for us,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom said. “They got us into some one-on-one situations where they quite honestly did a really good job of staying between us and the basket and we couldn’t really get in there.”
ROLL THE HIGHLIGHTS
Penn State notched five dunks that brought fans sitting in seats usually reserved for students to their feet.
None were prettier than two from Bolton. After swiping the ball from Joe Sherburne at the 3-point line, Bolton sped the other way and launched himself for an unchallenged one hander.
He kicked off the second half dribbling through a crowded post to slam home another basket with his right hand.
Stevens avoided injury after he took a hard fall after finishing a first-half fastbreak with a two-handed dunk.
UMBC’s Arkel Lamar fouled Stevens on the way in and Stevens landed with all of his body weight on his head and shoulder area. He shook his head a bit and looked wobbly on his way to the bench before re-entering the game.
“He’s a specimen,” Chambers said. “God has blessed him with an amazing body to be able to take such a hit to the floor. If that was me, I would be out for a month.”
UMBC: Just over nine months after the Retrievers pulled off college basketball’s biggest upset as the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, they look like they have the pieces necessary to post what would be their third-straight 20-win season. They’ll need to shoot better than 36 percent, however.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions ebbed and flowed a bit through the non-conference slate, but the positives outweigh the negatives. A trio of reliable freshmen has emerged with Bolton, Myreon Jones and Myles Dread all able to score. Meanwhile, big man Mike Watkins appears to be rounding into form after missing the first month of the season.
UMBC hosts Centenary on Monday.
Penn State visits Michigan on Thursday.
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