Through two games, Lamar Stevens has made it abundantly clear he’s willing and able to shoulder the majority of the offensive load which Tony Carr left unaccounted for when he chose to forgo his final two seasons at Penn State for the NBA Draft.
Stevens’ production is to be expected. A more pertinent question was who would be the second option for Penn State’s offense once Stevens is unable to create a good look or is double-teamed, which is often.
On Friday night against North Florida, that job was shared by Myles Dread and Josh Reaves.
But in Penn State’s 76-61 win over Jacksonville State on Monday night, Rasir Bolton was the Robin to Lamar Stevens’ Batman.
“[Bolton] was really comfortable out there,” Chambers said. “He made some plays for us and he put the ball in the basket. Doing some good things on the defensive end. But the way Jacksonville defends, they really pack it in, and it made most sense to go with [Bolton] tonight.”
Bolton finished the game tied with Stevens for a game-high 25 points on 8-of-14 from the field and 4-of-8 from three. He showed off his quick release, pulling up from well beyond the arc a few times throughout the night.
His last made three-pointer came with just over two minutes left, as he took and sunk a wide open jumper to put the Nittany Lions up by 12 and hammer the final nail in the Gamecocks’ coffin.
“I’ve seen him take that shot before, and I almost want to say drive it, but I’ve seen him make it as well,” Chambers said. “I give him the freedom to make decisions. That’s why he came here and why he fits our program well.”
Bolton was crucial in Penn State’s offensive gameplan, a main part of the reason he played so much more than starting point guard Jamari Wheeler.
As Chambers said after the game, Jacksonville State tends to focus on defending the paint with a lot of bodies to compensate for its lack of big men, and for that reason, driving and dishing was always Penn State’s strategy.
Bolton fits that mold much better than Wheeler and ensured the Nittany Lions stuck to the scheme even after starting the game 0-for-8 from 3-point land.
“You just gotta trust coach. He knows what he’s doing,” Chambers. “He’s not gonna lead us wrong. If he says keep driving and kicking, we’re gonna keep driving and kicking and shooters are gonna make shots when they’ve got to.”
Monday was the second straight game Bolton posted an offensive rating north of 140. He did so in 30 minutes of gametime after coming off the bench to replace Wheeler, whose offensive rating was a meager 22.3.
Chambers said he has talked to Bolton about starting the game on the sideline, and has chosen to leave him there for the first few minutes of the first few contests in order to give the freshman a chance to get a feel for the game before throwing him right into the fire.
Bolton’s night was an impressive coming out party for the first-year guard. He looked exceedingly comfortable handling the ball — turning it over just once — and was effective as a distributor and shooter.
But the key takeaway from Bolton’s big night is that Penn State has at least three players skilled and confident enough to be Stevens’ second in command.
At this point in his young college career, Bolton isn’t Tony Carr. And although he said he’s taken note of Carr’s level-headedness and composure, Bolton knows that.
But the Nittany Lions don’t need him to be Tony Carr, nor do they need Reaves, Dread or anybody else to try to emulate the second round Pelicans draft pick.
Rather, Penn State needs players comfortable to be called upon to give quality minutes, and so far that’s been the case.
“We wanted everybody to know exactly what [they need to] do and do it well,” Stevens said. “I think everybody is really taking pride in what they do and that’s what makes a really good basketball team.”