Penn State is nine games into its 2018-19 season, and with no contests scheduled during finals this week it marked a much needed break for three freshman guards who have been logging substantial minutes — and producing.
The Nittany Lions (5-4) emerge from their finals layoff with a game against N.C. State (8-1) in the Board Walk Classic in Atlantic City Saturday (2 p.m., ESPNU).
Point guard Rasir Bolton and shooting guard Myles Dread both figure to be in the starting lineup, with Bolton having cracked the top five in the last two games and Dread being there the entire season. Combo guard Myreon Jones is a primary reserve.
They are combining to average 26.4 points per game and together have accounted for 45 of the team’s 70 made 3-pointers. Dread is logging 28.9 minutes per game, Bolton 27.9 and Jones 13.3. Bolton and Jones were on the floor in the closing minutes of PSU’s 76-65 win over Colgate at the Jordan Center last Saturday.
“The freshmen have handled themselves very well,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “They’re playing critical minutes. Now Ra(sir) is in the starting lineup and obviously Myles is in the starting lineup. And M.J. finished the (Colgate) game. We’re putting a lot of pressure on these freshmen to produce, and they are.”
All three have had peaks and valleys.
Bolton went off for 27 points against Colgate and had 25 in a win over Jacksonville State. But he went 0 of 10 from the field in a loss at DePaul. He is the team’s second leading scorer on the season, averaging 13.6 points per game.
Dread was averaging 14 points per outing through four games but since then has seen his average dip to 8.4 points. In the last five games, he has made more than one 3-pointer only once (he had two in a home loss to Indiana). Yet he still ranks fourth on the team in points per game.
Jones poured in 16 points in a home upset of Virginia Tech, going 4 of 8 from the arc. Otherwise, he is 4 of 18 from long range on the season.
All of which comes with the territory for true freshmen.
“They’re handling it very well,” Chambers said. “It’s never perfect. It’s never gonna be perfect. But they’re getting in for recovery, getting in for extra shots and treatment, and all that good stuff. Academically, they’re handling their business right now. I think they’re really gonna do well this first semester.”
The Nittany Lions received several days off from practice to deal with finals, and Chambers felt the break from hoops was especially good for his rookies.
“The last few days for them — to breathe a little bit and exhale a little bit (and get) away from basketball and focus on academics — was the right time,” he said.
Asked if there were specific areas where the three true freshman guards must improve going forward, Chambers explained that he’s trying to take a broader approach to their collective development. And he believes PSU’s schedule to date — which has already included two Big Ten opponents (Indiana and Maryland), one Big East foe (DePaul) and one ACC team (Virginia Tech) before facing another ACC member (N.C. State) Saturday — has been a great teacher. (The Lions also scrimmaged Temple and played a charity exhibition at West Virginia.)
“I would say it’s a little bit of everything,” Chambers said. “And the only way they’re gonna improve is (with) time and experience. We put a very difficult non-conference schedule (together) along with two Big Ten games — I think that can only help our freshmen … as we approach January.”