Shep Shape: Rookie Shines in Penn State Debut

Garner’s strong showing helps the Lions ease past Morgan State in opener.

Penn State coach Pat Chambers knew freshman guard Shep Garner had earned a starting spot two weeks ago. But just to keep the rookie motivated, Chambers did not tell him until Monday.

The strategy paid off, as Garner looked as hungry as anyone on the floor in the Nittany Lions' season-opening 61-48 win over Morgan State at the Jordan Center Friday night.

Garner did a little bit of everything during his college debut. He shot the ball well, effectively ran the point at times, got loose on the break and played solid defense.

“It's like a dream come true,” he said afterward. “I just couldn't wait to get out on the floor with my brothers and play well.”

Garner made 6 of 9 shots, and in a variety of ways. He slashed to the hoop. He hit a couple of triples. He pulled up from 10 on the baseline. It added up to 14 points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal for the former Philadelphia Roman Catholic standout.

“It shows our confidence in him to make plays,” Chambers said. “I've watched him play since he was a young kid. He was fearless. I'm proud of the way he competed.”

“I thought he played great,” added senior guard D.J. Newbill, who was his usual well-rounded self with a team-high 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists. “He played with confidence.”

The backcourt effort was the highlight for the Lions.

Sophomore Geno Thorpe excelled on defense and contributed 11 points despite logging only 19 minutes due to foul trouble. John Johnson got in the lane, finishing with six points, including four from the line.

The frontcourt, however, was a different story, as two veterans expected to step up this year were as inconsistent as ever.

Senior Ross Travis never found a groove, going 1 of 2 from the field and 0 of 5 from the stripe. Junior Brandon Taylor went 2 of 10 from the field and 0 of 3 from the arc.

Add in post Donovon Jack, and PSU's starting frontcourt went a combined 4 of 16 from the floor and 1 of 7 from the free throw line.

The trio did, however, combine for 18 rebounds.

“That's a productive evening,” Chambers said, later adding that he was going to “focus on the positive” following the victory.

If that's the case, he probably won't want to watch much tape of the first half. Newbill admitted the Lions were “kind of super-excited” at the start, which led to spotty play.

They made only 2 of their first 12 shots and committed six turnovers in falling behind 12-6 at the second media timeout. By the midway point of the first half, they had allowed eight offensive rebounds.

“We've got to relax,” Newbill said.

But then the PSU guards caught fire. Down 16-8, Penn State outscored Morgan State 23-9 to take a 31-25 lead into the break. Garner bombed in a triple and then hit a baseline jumper early in the second half to keep the momentum going, and the Bears didn't have enough offensive firepower to make it interesting the rest of the way.

The ultimate dagger came with 10:55 left, when Garner made another 3-pointer and the lead expanded to 46-32.

“To be a freshman, and come out and play the way he did, the future's bright for him,” Chambers said.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Garner's mom, Kim, sang the National Anthem Friday. He explained that she often sang it before his games at Roman Catholic, and she sure looked at home belting it out before the crowd of 7,402 at the BJC.

“I was kind of used to it,” he said. “But on this stage, you wouldn't think your mom would sing the National Anthem. It was all right. It was exciting.”

Chambers was a bit more outwardly enthusiastic about the performance.

“She was awesome, wasn't she?” Chambers said. “We should have tackled his mom (in celebration), we should have huddled up around her. She's got an amazing voice, a beautiful voice.”

THE BIGGER THEY COME?

Morgan State's two pure centers measured in at a combined 14-foot-3, 595 pounds.

That included starter Zech Smith, a 7-0, 270-pounder, and reserve Jordan Omogbehin, who is an astounding 7-3, 315 pounds.

“I have never, in person, seen someone that big,” Newbill said of Omogbehin.

As big as they are, though, the duo combined for only 10 points and five rebounds.

BY THE NUMBERS

Penn State went 5 of 13 from the arc and only 14 of 23 from the free-throw line. … The Lions had 18 turnovers in the game, and Morgan State turned them into 20 points. … PSU missed at least three dunks in the game. … No Lion had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. … PSU got a solid 21 points from its bench.

UP NEXT

Penn State's busy opening two weeks of the season continues Sunday when Fordham visits the BJC. The game tips at 5 p.m.

HEAR CHAMBERS’ POST-GAME PC


Fight On State Top Stories