STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Lamar Stevens feels like “the guy” now. The Penn State forward has been playing like it for quite a while.
Stevens scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Penn State to a season-opening 87-72 win over North Florida on Friday night.
“He’s very unselfish,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “He didn’t really force anything and he didn’t try to push anything to where he needed the ball. I think he’s at an age now where he understands he’s got to do a little bit of everything and he did.”
Stevens is prepared to carry more of the load in the wake of the Big Ten’s leading scorer Tony Carr’s early departure for the NBA, and the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Stevens picked up where he left off last season averaging 19.2 points per game over the final five postseason games.
He scored 18 in the first half on Friday with eight over the final 9:14 to give Penn State a 40-28 halftime lead.
“I feel like our team depends on me to score,” Stevens said.
He had help, too.
Josh Reaves added 19 points, Myles Dread chipped in 17 and Rasir Bolton notched 13 for the Nittany Lions (1-0), who unveiled their NIT championship banner before the game. Penn State’s total was the most points it scored in a game in the Chambers era.
Garrett Sams led the Ospreys (0-2) with 16 points, while Noah Horchler and Ezekiel Balogun scored 10 apiece for North Florida, which cut Penn State’s lead to eight early in the second half but trailed by 18 with 5:45 left.
Carr and Shep Garner combined to shoot 65 percent of Penn State’s 3-pointers last season and replacing their output will be a focus.
A pair of freshmen stepped up in their debuts. Bolton and Dread combined to make 6 of 11 3s and looked smooth and calm doing so.
“They’re very confident kids,” Chambers said. “I think we give them the confidence, the staff, the vets, they give them the confidence to seek their shot, look for their shot and go make plays. We can’t hold those two back.”
CLOSE, FOR A WHILE
The Ospreys looked like they would be a tough beat early on but faded as they continued to put up 3-pointers. After shooting 38 percent from long distance in their opener against Dayton, the Ospreys made just 5 of 27 3-pointers inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
“We missed a lot of wide-open 3s, 3s that we make,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said.
North Florida: The Ospreys were tabbed by Atlantic Sun Conference coaches to finish fourth in the preseason and appear to have the offense to compete. All five starters are back from last year’s 14-19 squad that went 7-7 in conference play, but they need to be better out of the gate. The Ospreys went 0-6 to start last season with five of those games played on the road. North Florida will return home on Wednesday but will play their next four away from home.
Penn State: It was a special night for the Nittany Lions who knocked off No. 13 West Virginia, a Sweet 16 team in the spring, with a last-second basket in a charity exhibition on Saturday. They unveiled their NIT championship banner and paid tribute to graduated veterans Julian Moore and Shep Garner. More importantly, they ushered in a handful of youngsters who looked good in their first games and will need to compliment the team’s veterans if Penn State plans to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
North Florida: The Ospreys host Edward Waters on Wednesday.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions host Jacksonville State on Monday.
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