Penn State last started a season 4-0 in 2011, also the last time the team played in the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions seek a fourth victory to begin a season again Friday when they host Columbia in the Legends Classic, but they may have to do so without their leader.
Sophomore 6-3 guard Tony Carr, who averaged 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists last season and scored 53 points in wins over Campbell and Fairleigh Dickinson to kick-start the 2017-18 campaign, sprained his ankle early in the second half and did not return in the Nittany Lions’ 70-59 victory over Montana on Wednesday. With their floor general down, sophomore forward Lamar Stevens stepped up with team highs of 25 points (15 in the second half) and seven rebounds, while senior Shep Garner shook a shooting slump to drain consecutive 3-pointers with about three minutes to play to hold off the Grizzlies. “My teammates and coaches instilled a lot of confidence in me and when Tony went down; everybody had to step up, and tonight, my teammates just found me in the right spots and I was able to make my shots,” Stevens told reporters after the game. Columbia won just 11 games last season after losing four starters and head coach Kyle Smith from a 25-win season in 2015-16, but second-year coach Jim Engles’ squad stayed with powerful Villanova in the opener before falling 75-60 and beat Longwood 87-77 on Tuesday.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network Plus
ABOUT COLUMBIA (1-1): Engles wants the Lions to play up-tempo and the key are 6-0 guards Mike Smith and Quinton Adlesh, who combined for 45 points in the win over Longwood. Smith, a sophomore, averaged 13.6 points and 3.4 assists as a rookie last season and led the team in minutes at 31.4 per contest. Lukas Meisner, a 6-8 forward who had 12 points and a career-high 16 rebounds in the win over Longwood, is the only starter over 6-4, and he’ll have his hands full with a trio of Penn State bigs that stand 6-10 or taller.
ABOUT PENN STATE (3-0): With Carr being held to seven points and 19 minutes due to the injury, Garner and Josh Reaves scored 12 points apiece to help hold off the Grizzlies, while Mike Watkins added eight points, six rebounds and four blocks in 19 minutes. Before draining his late-game shots beyond the arc, Garner had connected on only 4-of-19 this season after draining nearly 38 percent of his attempts over his first three seasons. Stevens is averaging 15 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds, while Reaves is chipping in 14.7 points and 2.3 steals.
1. Penn State has held back-to-back opponents to below 60 points (Fairleigh Dickinson and Montana) for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
2. Watkins, just a sophomore, is already eighth on the school’s all-time blocked shots chart with 97.
3. Columbia starting G Kyle Castlin missed the Longwood game with an elbow injury, providing Adlesh’s first career start.
PREDICTION: Penn State 66, Columbia 63