Watching the closing minutes, with his team looking to finish off a win in its third game in five days, Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers learned a lot.
He felt his players’ tanks were “on empty” during stretches against Grand Canyon, but they all provided critical contributions in an 85-76 win Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
And they made the plays to hold off Grand Canyon after the Lopes sliced a once double-digit deficit to six points with less than two minutes to play.
“They dug deep,” Chambers said of his team. “They got back to the middle of the ring.”
Chambers said his rotation of eight players willed the Nittany Lions to victory.
Lamar Stevens scored a team-high 19 points, Payton Banks added 15, Shep Garner finished with 14 and Tony Carr had 10. Mike Watkins finished with nine points, six rebounds and three blocks, while Nazeer Bostick, Terrence Samuel and Julian Moore each provided a lift off the bench.
Samuel led the team with seven assists, and Moore pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
Grand Canyon’s Joshua Braun scored a game-high 25 points and hit 5 of 10 3-pointers.
While Braun kept the Lopes (0-2) in it with 16 points in the first half, Bostick impressed in his Penn State debut.
After not playing in the first two games of the season, the freshman scored all seven of his points in the first half as the Nittany Lions (2-1) built a 48-41 lead going into the break.
“He’s been waiting his turn and he took advantage of his opportunity today,” Garner said. “I was very proud of No. 4. I’ve been talking him up all week, and he took advantage. He took advantage of his time he was out there and hopefully he keeps it up.”
Moore made a difference after scoring a combined five points and grabbing one rebound in the team’s first two games.
Chambers met with the big man Monday and told him to stay confident.
He had three putback dunks to highlight his performance.
“It’s been a little bit unlucky for you the first two games,” Chambers said. “He got in some foul trouble, but he’s a redshirt junior so he had a great attitude, came into practice. He was ready to go and he was prepared.
“I truly believe if his head was anywhere else, he wouldn’t have gave us the production he gave us today.”
Penn State started to pull away after Moore’s third putback dunk as the Nittany Lions took a 71-63 lead with more than seven minutes to play. A tip-in by Stevens pushed the lead to 12 with more than six minutes to go.
But Grand Canyon cut the deficit to six points with less than two minute to go. With Penn State still ahead by six with 1:05 left, Garner put the game away, stealing an inbounds pass by Oscar Frayer and finishing a layup at the other end.
“I just wanted to go out there and make a play and finish the game off,” Garner said.
Notes: Penn State faces No. 1 Duke at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn. … Chambers said he doesn’t know if guard Josh Reaves will be able to play this weekend. Reaves missed the first three games due to a leg injury. … Bostick played 17 minutes in his debut. … Penn State shot 9 for 19 from beyond the arc.