Before Penn State’s season ever began someone asked Lamar Stevens when he had last talked to Tony Carr.
The answer indirectly implied that it had been months.
When was the last time he talked to Shep Garner?
All the time.
Stevens insists -or at least projects- the idea that he and Carr are as good of friends as they ever were at Roman Catholic. He smiles when asked about growing up together and he deflects the notion that Carr’s departure to the NBA Draft has hurt Stevens as a player and as a person.
But it’s hard to imagine that it hasn’t. With Carr the Nittany Lions might have been a different team, but they would be winning. Stevens is dripping confidence, and for good reason, but there are realities in the game of basketball.
On Saturday night Stevens turned, zeroing in on a quick -but open- shot at the basket with just over a second to go. It clanked, and Penn State lost 65-64 to Minnesota.
Stevens looked to the ground, 27 points and 40 minutes later all he had to show for it was another loss and more bruises.
The game was nothing you hadn’t seen before. Penn State started well, shooting 56% from the field in the first half, before cooling off in the second. The Nittany Lions played defense, but not well enough, shot well, but not well enough. Did some good and did some bad.
In the end a close game to the very last.
But a loss, again.
Mike Watkins had 10 points and nine rebounds. Josh Reaves added seven points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. The rest of the scoring was a hodgepodge of single-digit efforts. Enough to take a double-digit first half lead, but not enough to hold it.
How the Nittany Lions turn the corner is something that is difficult to answer. Penn State’s failures are in the details. An accumulation of small errors rather than some broad incompetence or inability. Twice the Nittany Lions fouled three point shooters late in the shot clock and twice they paid for it.
The answer isn’t effort, Stevens is the poster child for getting shots up in the gym. For getting stronger and better. He is Trace McSorley without Saquon Barkley. He is Juwan Johnson without Josh Gattis. There is much Stevens can do, but only so much he can do on his own.
And I imagine as he looked at the ground, there was a small sense of helplessness. Because nothing feels worse than having done everything you could, and having it not be enough.
Maybe he really isn’t angry at Tony. It has been a good long while since anyone asked.
But if he was, it would be easy to understand why.