Freshman delivers off bench
By Paddy Cotter
For the Mirror
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State’s 76-61 win over Jacksonville State on Monday night revealed a new jem for the Lions. Rasir Bolton, a freshman as lanky as he is level-headed, proved that he could be the weapon this team needs.
“It’s big time,” Lamar Stevens said of Bolton’s impact. “When he got here, I knew he could play.”
The nimble guard shared the title of the highest scorer of the night with Stevens, who will probably hold that honor for most of the season.
But Bolton provided the most important performance of the night and gave insight into what the Lions will look like going forward.
One of the influences of Bolton’s approach is Tony Carr, who left the team for the NBA draft after last season.
“I definitely watched Tony a lot last year,” Bolton said. “Just taking his level headedness and just how calm he was in any situation… I tried to take that from his game.”
Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper game-planned for Stevens, sending double teams his way. The coach was as surprised by the freshman as most people.
“We let Bolton go crazy,” Harper said.
The Gamecocks didn’t make it easy on the Lions and kept it close for most of the game. Jason Burnell scored the Gamecocks’ first eight points and recorded a game-high 12 rebounds.
“He had a double-double tonight. I think he’s capable of that on most nights,” Ray Harper said. “We had to take away the paint.”
For all the things Jamari Wheeler brings to this Penn State team, his shortcomings are very apparent. Even though he is one of the quickest defenders and most proficient stealers in the conference, he’s starting to look like a liability on the offensive end. Wheeler was scoreless, missing all of his four shots in 21 minutes of play.
Chambers isn’t all that worried about the sophomore’s output, believing that Wheeler doesn’t need to be the guy making shots.
“He’s just got to relax. He wants to play perfect,” Chambers said. “He doesn’t have to do that. Just defend, rebound, make good decisions, and be the guy that dictates our defense… That’s what we need from him.”
Similar to the season opener, Penn State’s offense was out of sync to start the game. A number of miscues gave the Gamecocks an 18-14 lead just past the midpoint of the first half.
Stevens and Bolton accounted for 28 of the team’s 37 points by the half.
His freshmen counterparts in Myles Dread and Myreon Jones were not nearly as effective. Both players missed their first four shots. There’s not much to fear on that front though, as both players will play key roles this season.
“I know the guy you’re waiting to erupt here is Myreon Jones,” Chambers said.
Dread’s first conversion was important. The Lions were clinging to a four point lead as halftime neared. Dread made a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 7. The Gamecocks scored just before the buzzer to cut the lead to 5 before heading into the break.
The Lions didn’t make any notable separation until 12 minutes into the second half, when they took their first double digit lead of the contest. Even then, it still felt like a dog fight.
Eventually, Bolton’s performance and Stevens’ ability to escape the double team gave the Lions separation.
Tonight belonged to Bolton. Maybe Jones or Dread will be the next young players to erupt and stir the imagination of what this team’s potential.
The Lions play away at Depaul on Thursday night.
JACKSONVILLE ST. (0-2)
Burnell 5-12 3-3 14, Cunningham 5-8 0-1 10, Mostella 7-15 2-2 17, Hunter 2-6 0-0 5, Hudson 2-7 3-3 7, Cross 0-2 0-0 0, Zeliznak 0-0 0-0 0, St. Hilaire 0-0 0-0 0, Gregory 2-7 4-7 8, Dunlap 0-0 0-0 0, C.Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 12-16 61.
PENN ST. (2-0)
Stevens 9-18 5-7 25, Harrar 1-3 1-3 3, Dread 3-13 0-0 7, Wheeler 0-4 0-0 0, Reaves 4-6 1-1 11, Buttrick 1-3 0-0 3, Bolton 8-14 5-7 25, M.Jones 0-4 2-3 2. Totals 26-65 14-21 76.
Halftime–Penn St. 37-32. 3-Point Goals–Jacksonville St. 3-13 (Hunter 1-3, Burnell 1-3, Mostella 1-5, Hudson 0-2), Penn St. 10-33 (Bolton 4-8, Reaves 2-3, Stevens 2-6, Buttrick 1-3, Dread 1-9, M.Jones 0-2, Wheeler 0-2). Fouled Out–Burnell. Rebounds–Jacksonville St. 36 (Burnell 12), Penn St. 32 (Stevens 9). Assists–Jacksonville St. 6 (Hudson 4), Penn St. 10 (Stevens 3). Total Fouls–Jacksonville St. 22, Penn St. 17.