Penn State bounced back after a lackluster performance at DePaul, delivering one of their most complete games of the young season in a dominant 77-59 win over Wright State.
With Mike Watkins still sidelined and John Harrar dealing with foul trouble yet again, the team rallied together for a strong effort rebounding the ball against a team that prides themselves in that facet of the game.
The reward for the Nittany Lions win is a match-up against the Bradley Braves, who also easily dispatched their semi-final opponent last night. Bradley is an experienced team with two talented front-court players who played excellently against SMU. It should be a good test for Penn State prior to next week’s game against Virginia Tech.
Returning all five starters from a 20-win team, Brian Wardle’s Braves will not be intimidated as they lineup against the Nittany Lions tonight in Cancun. Like Penn State, this team’s calling card is their defense. They will try to slow down the tempo of the game, which will contrast nicely with Chambers’ proclivity for the 2-2-1 press. Bradley has experienced guards, but the defensive ability and athleticism of Reaves, Wheeler and Dread will test their decision-making and handles.
Bradley has two players, Elijah Childs and Koch Bar, who will pose matchup issues, especially if fouls are called as tight as last night. Childs is a versatile scorer who can hit shots at multiple levels and finish at the rim. He’s not unlike Lamar Stevens, the player who he’ll likely be up against for much of the game. At full-strength Pat Chambers could put Stevens on Childs, Watkins on Bar, and call it a night.
Without Watkins, Penn State is in a tough spot to guard Koch Bar. At 6 foot 11, Bradley’s center has had his way with opponents so far this year. He can finish in the paint, and does a great job getting offensive rebounds and easy put backs. This has led to a 83.3eFG% through 5 games. John Harrar has his work cut out for him, and the team needs him to find a way to manage his fouls.
What To Watch For
Scoring Depth – Four players reached double figures last night, including Jamari Wheeler. I think it’s fair to expect that kind of scoring performance from Stevens, Reaves, and Dread on a nightly basis. If Wheeler can provide 8-10 points consistently, it will be a huge boost to the offense.
Guarding Bar – Pat may need to get creative in his approach to guarding Koch Bar, especially with John Harrar picking up two fouls in the first three minutes of the game last night. Help defense will be important all night, and it’s crucial that Penn State rebounds well again to limit the number of easy put-backs for Bar.
Press State – The advantage for Penn State lies at the guard position and their defensive prowess. Bradley looked impressive against SMU, but the Mustangs did not play defense at the level that the Nittany Lions will tonight. Wheeler and Reaves should be able to disrupt the flow of the game and force Bradley out of their comfort zone.
What a difference a day makes. It was difficult to be optimistic heading into the Wright State game, and now it’s hard not to be. I like most of the match-ups for tonight, but Koch Bar is going to be a problem. I don’t think he’s capable of beating Penn State on his own, and despite a strong performance inside, Bradley is bested by Penn Sate’s perimeter game on both ends. Rasir Bolton gets back on track with three 3s, and Lamar Stevens takes home the tournament MVP and another trophy for the Nittany Lions. Penn State 75, Bradley 66.