Penn State suffered its first defeat of the 2018-19 season on Thursday, falling 72-70 in overtime at DePaul to move to 2-1 on the year. It was the first stark reminder that this team is without Tony Carr and (temporarily) Mike Watkins, which the Blue Demons took full advantage of.
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Penn State’s three best players on the night were Lamar Stevens, Myles Dread, and Josh Reaves, who helped lift the Nittany Lions to an early 11-0 lead. Stevens finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds; Dread had 19 points and 5 threes; and Reaves added 13 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals.
DePaul exploited the absence of Watkins, attacking the basket regularly. The limitations of Trent Buttrick as a big man were exposed, as he struggled mightily at defending the rim when John Harrar was off the court. With Watkins out and Satchel Pierce ineligible, Chambers really has no other choice but to try Buttrick as the reserve five, but this game made clear why that’s not a long term solution. DePaul scored 22 of its 36 first half points in the paint. Consequently, Chambers elected to play Stevens at the five down the stretch once Harrar fouled out.
More noticeable, however, was the absence of Carr. His replacements at point guard are sophomore Jamari Wheeler and freshman Rasir Bolton, and the two were completely outmatched in this game.
Bolton had an almost impossibly bad game. Aside from his late steal that almost ended in a buzzer beating layup in regulation, seemingly everything went wrong for the freshman. He shot 0-for-10 from the field, and if anything, that line understates how poor his shooting night was. His shot selection was dreadful, and he was nowhere close to getting on the board. Meanwhile, Wheeler has an aversion to shooting that would make Markelle Fultz blush, trying to drive-and-kick only to face a defense expecting him to do just that.
Worse, neither point guard could muster even a single assist in this game, and they combined for 6 turnovers. Both are young and shouldn’t be expected to carry the team the way Carr did, but it is hard to imagine a worse performance coming from the point guard position in a single game.
Consequently, the offense was a struggle for much of the night. Penn State is not comfortable with entry passes and struggles at times to find ways to get the dynamic Stevens the ball. Additionally, the decision making is decidedly slow, and the sluggish pace of passing made things much easier for DePaul’s defense to prevent easy looks.
The Nittany Lions likely would not have been in a position to mount a comeback without strong three-point shooting nights from Dread and Reaves. The two combined to go 8-for-17 from three, and both hit some timely threes that kept DePaul from putting the game completely out of reach.
Still, the surprising run at the end of the second half to get the game to overtime came seemingly out of nowhere. Chambers’ decision to go to the three-quarter court press paid off, with multiple forced turnovers leading to points. Unfortunately, the final play of the game came up just short, as Bolton’s layup attempt wouldn’t go.
The overtime period didn’t go much better. Both teams struggled to score, with DePaul winning the period by a 4-2 margin over five minutes — the only Nittany Lion points were free throws by Buttrick. Penn State had an opportunity to tie or win the game at the end, but the inbounds play to Dread resulted in the freshman pump faking and passing up a corner three for a two-point jumper that came up well short.
The Nittany Lions will head back out on the road next week with a pair of games at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya in Mexico. They play Wright State on Tuesday and either SMU or Bradley on Wednesday.