Penn St. dumps Jacksonville St. behind Stevens and Bolton
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Jacksonville State planned to double team Penn State's best player, but it was tough for the Gamecocks to determine who that was for most of the night.
"It's big time," Penn State forward Lamar Stevens said. "I've been telling everybody how good these freshmen are."
Stevens and Rasir Bolton scored 25 points apiece and Penn State beat Jacksonville State 76-61 on Monday night.
Stevens also grabbed nine rebounds and Josh Reaves chipped in 11 points for the Nittany Lions (2-0) who won their second straight inside the Bryce Jordan Center and seventh straight dating to last season's National Invitation Tournament.
"I think last year's successes and wins have really taught this group how to win," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. "I think that's what you saw in the last five minutes."
A back-and-forth first half turned for good on Bolton's second 3-pointer of the game. It gave the Nittany Lions the lead with 6:17 to play in the first half and Stevens helped them seize control with six points over the next 4:31.
After leading 37-32 at halftime, Penn State built 11-point leads twice before padding their total in the final minute. Stevens drew a foul en route to a layup then sank the free throw to put Penn State up 59-48 with 8:24 left. Reaves nailed a 3-pointer just over five minutes later to make it 66-55 with 3:18 to go.
Jason Burnell scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Jacksonville State (0-2). Derrick Mostella added 17 and Christian Cunningham notched 10 for the Gamecocks.
"We had some defensive breakdowns just from a communication standpoint and we just gave up too many offensive rebounds," Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper said. "I think we did okay on (Stevens) and then we let Bolton go crazy."
PLAYING INTO THEIR HANDS
Jacksonville State's defense has thrived at times during the Gamecocks' recent run of success by forcing lower percentage jumpers. That was just fine with Chambers who deployed numerous personnel configurations with eager marksmen.
"I was pretty comfortable with them doing that," Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions made 41 percent of their field goals on 26-for-64 shooting.
Bolton found himself in double figures for the second game in a row and his calm demeanor had reminded his teammates of Tony Carr.
Carr, the Big Ten's leading scorer last season, left early for the NBA leaving a wide-open spot in the Penn State lineup. Bolton appears to be on track to seize a lot of those minutes.
"I definitely watched Tony a lot last year," Bolton said. "Just taking in his level headedness and just how calm he was in any situation, tied up at Ohio State, comes down and makes a deep 3, he's just always level-headed, always thinking about the next play so I try to take that from his game."
Jacksonville State: The Gamecocks won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in 2017, and although they were knocked out in the semis in the spring, still won a program-best 23 games. Picked to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference by coaches in the preseason, the Gamecocks appear to have all the pieces to aim higher and vie for another title and a third-straight 20-win season.
Penn State: With a lot of new faces and big forward Mike Watkins still taking personal time away from the team, coach Pat Chambers wants to get a look at multiple lineups. With Reaves in foul trouble early, Chambers had the chance to get Jamari Wheeler more time with Bolton, Myles Dread and Myreon Jones on his wings.
Jacksonville State visits Bradley on Wednesday.
Penn State plays DePaul in a Gavitt Tipoff Series game in Chicago on Thursday.