Maryland kicks off conference play on Saturday with a meeting against Penn State. While the two team’s football games have recently been lopsided, all six of Maryland’s Big Ten meetings with the Nittany Lions have been decided by no more than six points. To see if we’ll have another close contest, we talked to Tyler King of The Daily Collegian. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Lamar Stevens has been a force for Penn State this season, leading the team in points per game and rebounds per game. How has he fallen into this leadership role?
I think it was kind of a given coming into the season that Stevens would assume the leadership role. Penn State lost two members of its starting backcourt from last season, Tony Carr and Shep Garner, so it was assumed that Stevens would take over the go-to scorer role this season.
He’s done a really nice job so far, scoring 20-plus points in all but one of the Nittany Lions' games so far and he’s currently second in the Big Ten in scoring. While Stevens certainly is an All-Big Ten caliber player, Josh Reaves is the vocal leader and the heart and soul of the team. He’s one of the best defenders, if not the best defender, in the conference and plays with such emotion that has inspired this team for four years now.
Who else for the Nittany Lions needs to step up?
As good as Stevens has been, Penn State is still looking for someone to step up and consistently be a secondary scoring option.
Reaves is capable, but he’s been in foul trouble on a handful of occasions this season. Mike Watkins is another candidate, but he just recently returned to the court after his five-game absence to start the season. There’s also the trio of talented freshmen. Rasir Bolton, Myles Dread and Myreon Jones have all shown flashes of their abilities this season, but none of them have been consistent. The most likely of the trio to step into a more prominent role is Bolton. He scored 25 points against Jacksonville State earlier this season and is capable of scoring at all three levels. He plays a little reckless at times, but he’s definitely has the talent to be the Nittany Lions' second-best scorer.
Bruno Fernando is among the leaders in the nation shooting 77 percent from the floor. Does Penn State have an answer for him in the paint?
I think the matchup between Fernando and Watkins will be really fun to watch. Watkins still isn’t in game shape, so he probably won’t play more than 25 minutes at most, but he was an All-Big Ten defensive player last season for a reason. Fernando and Watkins squared off against each other twice last season, with each player outperforming the other in their respective home gyms. I’m personally a big fan of what Fernando can do. I love his athleticism and his abilities rolling to the basket, but Watkins is probably as good as anyone in the conference in terms of being able to defend him. So this will for sure be a key matchup to watch and will likely help decide the outcome of the game.
Penn State wins if...
It sticks to its game plan of playing solid defense for 40 minutes and not allowing any second chance opportunities.
Pat Chambers preaches all the time about defending and rebounding and this team has bought in over the last couple of years. Watkins has only played a total of 21 minutes this season and Penn State already has the 10th-best adjusted defensive rating on Kenpom. Another big key is that the Nittany Lions will have the best player on the floor, as they will in just about every game this season, in Stevens. Most teams don’t have a player that is capable of defending a three-level scorer at Stevens' size and it doesn’t look like Maryland has a player like that in its starting five. The Nittany Lions will likely feed Stevens early and often and if he’s on his game, Penn State can most certainly walk away with a win.
Maryland wins if...
Penn State doesn’t shoot the ball well and Maryland controls the momentum early in the first half. The Nittany Lions are just as talented, if not more than this Terps team, but they have never played well on the road against Mark Turgeon’s team. Maryland also has a size advantage, at least in terms of the two teams' starting lineups, so if the Terps are able to get offensive rebounds and convert on second chance opportunities, they’ll take control of the game. Maryland also has to take care of the ball against a solid Penn State defense that likes to get out and run in transition.