It is early in the season, but Penn State freshman guard Josh Reaves has already established a game-opening pattern for the Nittany Lions.
Before people can get fully settled into their seats, he comes up with a steal and then bolts down the floor for a dunk. That’s how he scored the first bucket of the game in Saturday’s win over VMI. He was at it again in Tuesday’s victory (68-62) over DePaul.
Both games were at the Jordan Center and both dunks got the crowd involved early.
So how is this happening?
“Coach [Pat Chambers] really just gives me a lot (of leeway) — he talked to me a lot about being in certain spots and being in the right passing lanes and reading … if I can get there or if I can’t,” Reaves said. “Just trusting my teammates and getting back and finding out what I have to do and where I need to get to.
“As far as getting the first dunk in the game, I think that’s just luck, honestly,” he admitted.
Reaves goes 6-foot-4, 205 and has long arms. He is super quick and very springy. Unlike most true freshmen, he not only has the tools to be a terrific defender, but also seems to enjoy that role.
So Chambers is letting him run with it, even if it leads to some very freshman-like moments on the floor.
“You have to let him play,” Chambers said. “He is so gifted and loves to play on the defensive end. He is kind of a throwback for me. He wants to get better and we will watch film tomorrow and he will want to get better. Some of the things we want to clean up — it’ll gradually start to show. The most important thing to me is getting him there by January, when the Big Ten comes around.”
Reaves is hoping practice makes perfect in that regard.
“During practice I kind of make some bad decisions,” he said. “Coach just brings me aside and talks to me about how I need to think about what I’m doing before I do it. And if I can get there, go in the right position and trust my teammates.”
Reaves’ solid effort against DePaul included 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. He made a bucket in the lane and a pair of free throws down the stretch.
SPREADING THE WEALTH
Penn State had four players in double figures against the Blue Demons (see the box below), and multiple Lions made clutch plays in the second half. Though DePaul cut the PSU lead to three on seven different occasions in the final period, State responded each time on the way to the victory.
For Chambers, this setup is better than having one go-to guy, as the Lions did with the since graduated D.J. Newbill last season.
“I think that’s outstanding for us, now we have choices,” Chambers said.
Will the guys who are making key plays now be able to do the same when the Big Ten seasons gets here? That remains to be seen.
For the time being, however, it does seem to be a positive.
Penn State jumped out to an early 11-2 lead Tuesday before DePaul tied it at 23-23 later in the first half. Then Brandon Taylor wrapped a pair of 3-pointers around halftime to boost the lead back to 34-25.
As noted earlier, the Blue Demons kept clawing back within three, only to see the Lions respond each time.
“I felt like we took some punches,” Chambers said. “We might have gotten stung a little bit but we came right back and made a play and had a big basket. … I didn’t really see panic.”
• In the preseason, Chambers said he thought this would be his best 3-point shooting team in his five years at Penn State. It began to show Tuesday. The Lions were 10 of 21 from the arc. That was important because the Blue Demons packed the lane and dared them to score from long range. DePaul was only 2 of 11 from deep.
• DePaul stayed in it by getting to the line a lot. The Blue Demons made 20 of 24 free throws compared to 14 of 20 for PSU.
• Penn State redshirt sophomore forward Julian Moore had a team-high eight rebounds in 19 minutes.
• PSU had previously been 0-6 vs. DePaul.
• Penn State is at Duquesne Friday for a 7 p.m. tip.
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