Although the name may suggest otherwise, men’s basketball won’t be facing its second-straight Floridian foe when it hosts Jacksonville State Monday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Gamecocks, who hail from Jacksonville, Alabama, finished fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2017-2018 before losing to eventual-champions Murray State in the conference tournament semifinals. They’ll head to State College for their first Cancun Classic campus game after falling to Samford in their season opener.
The Nittany Lions are coming fresh off a 15-point victory over North Florida in their first Cancun Classic campus game, which came on the heels of an exhibition win at West Virginia.
Monday’s game will be Penn State’s last contest at home until Virginia Tech visits at the end of the month for the first game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Jacksonville State is poised to make a jump as one of the OVC’s best teams this season following the program’s only NCAA Tournament appearance two years ago and a trip to the College Basketball Invitational semifinals last season. The Gamecocks led the conference in scoring defense, allowing an average of 65.8 points per game.
Although Jacksonville State lost two of its best players in Malcolm Drumwright and Norbertas Giga, the Gamecocks have a pair of impressive big men in seniors Jason Burnell and Christian Cunningham.
After transferring from St. Petersburg prior to last season, Burnell started for the Gamecocks down the stretch last year and picked up three double-doubles, earning a selection to the Ohio Valley Conference newcomers of the year team.
Cunningham led the conference in blocks last year with 1.8 per game.
Although neither are especially tall for big men, Burnell and Cunningham could create a matchup problem if John Harrar finds himself in early foul trouble as he has against West Virginia and North Florida.
The Nittany Lions will also need continued production from their young guards, namely Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton. The duo combined for 6-of-11 from beyond the arc and eight assists against North Florida.
But as will most likely be the case for most of this season, the game will rest on the shoulders of Lamar Stevens.
He scored a game-high 22 points Friday and operated well out of the post, something he’ll have to continue to do in the absence of Mike Watkins — and especially against a team with a pair of decent forwards.
As Pat Chambers said after beating the Ospreys, if Stevens can be consistent and efficient with the ball, teams will be forced to double him in the post and he’ll be able to dish the ball out to Penn State’s shooters.
Considering the Gamecocks don’t have tremendous guard play, the Nittany Lions young players should have a chance to continue to produce and gain confidence with conference play just a few weeks away.