If Penn State wants to move on to the Quarterfinals of the NIT it will need to play better this afternoon against Notre Dame.
The Nittany Lions came out flat and seemingly disinterested before a flurry of points put them over the top in a home victory against Temple on Wednesday night.
Now on the road against Notre Dame, Penn State won’t be afforded the same luxury and will need to play a solid 40 minutes to advance to the next round. Let’s take a look at a key matchup that could decide the game today.
Penn State’s Frontcourt vs. Bonzie Colson
A healthy Mike Watkins could make this slightly easier. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-9 sophomore will miss his sixth consecutive game after injuring his right knee against Michigan late in the season.
Notre Dame knows about injuries to frontcourt players as well. Colson missed 15 games this season with a broken foot but has returned for his last six games. His minutes have steadied, and he looks to be full steam ahead this afternoon. In his games back, Colson has averaged 17 points and 9.6 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. Notre Dame is 4-2 over that span.
The responsibility to shut down Colson could come to sophomore Lamar Stevens. The Pennsylvania-native is best equipped physically to stop Colson on the perimeter and in the post. Stevens has been pretty good about fouling, only fouling out in three games this season, and he will need that to continue today. Due to Watkins’s unavailability, there isn’t much outside Stevens to slow down Colson.
Should Stevens deal with foul trouble, senior Julian Moore is next up off the bench to take on the challenge. The 6-foot-10 big man had his best game of the season against Temple playing 21 minutes and putting up 10 points and grabbing three rebounds. The Nittany Lions will need this good play to continue today.
If Penn State wants to throw another big at Colson, freshman John Harrar might get the assignment. It would be the biggest role Harrar has played so far in his young career, but it would be a lot to ask for the 6-foot-9 big. In a similar situation against Purdue’s vaulted frontcourt, Harrar mustered nine minutes and picked up three fouls. Penn State will hope Harrar can give them a little more today.
Penn State looks to extend its season today in difficult circumstances at Notre Dame. The Nittany Lions need better effort and execution today if they want to make the Quarterfinals today. Tony Carr needs a better performance, Josh Reeves needs to continue his hot hand, and the Nittany Lions need a way to stop Bonzie Colson. Lamar Stevens is best equipped to handle this responsibility but will need to stay out of foul trouble.
It’s a lot to ask for a team with two road wins in 2018, but it is a great opportunity for this vaulted sophomore class to continue its rise and development. Wins like this one can pay dividends down the line.