The first few trips down the floor, Northwestern’s Vic Law didn’t give Penn State’s Shep Garner any room on the perimeter.
Law was right with Garner when he caught a pass at the top of the key. The 6-foot-7 forward overplayed the 6-foot-2 guard on the wing beyond the arc, denying him the chance to get the ball. He followed him through two screens to stay with the guard, in a defensive stance and reaching for the ball a split second after Garner caught it on the edge of the halfcourt logo at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The junior guard finally got free for his first shot after giving a pump fake to get Law in the air. As Garner fired from 3-point range, Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh tried to get a hand in his face and Law spun back to try to contest the attempt, too.
The Wildcats came into the game looking to limit Garner’s and Payton Banks’ opportunities from 3-point range.
“We wanted to take away those two kids’ 3s and make those other guys be their primary guys,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.
Collins said the focus was about more than just the value of 3-pointers — the Nittany Lions feed off their veterans’ ability to knock down shots. That was evident in Penn State’s blowout wins over St. John’s and Morgan State when Garner and Banks combined to shoot 16 for 32 from beyond the arc.
On Wednesday against Northwestern, they were both limited to single digits scoring and went a combined 0 for 4 from long range in an 87-77 loss.
The Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-1) will look to bounce back at Rutgers (11-3, 0-1) at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
While Garner and Banks struggled against Northwestern, their teammates showed their youth as first-year players Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins were making their Big Ten debuts.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers felt Northwestern’s experience took over as the Wildcats built their lead early in the first half.
“Talent can only take you so far,” Chambers said. “What we’re still learning to do is competing on every possession and playing hard on every possession and that’s what (Northwestern is) doing. They’re doing that. They got three veteran guys, four veteran guys.”
Collins was in a similar position two years ago.
“In my second year, I was starting McIntosh and Law and those guys as freshmen and they’re good players, but they had to learn what Big Ten ball was all about,” Collins said. “And the future’s in really good hands here. I love the talent of their young players.”
With Northwestern’s focus on the 3-point shooting of Garner and Banks, Chambers pointed to the Nittany Lions’ defense as part of the problem.
If they get stops, they can push the ball to generate better looks.
That’s how Garner got his first shot. After a Northwestern miss, Josh Reaves grabbed the rebound and took off. He dribbled into the lane, drawing defenders to him before kicking it out to an open Stevens.
With the Wildcats out of position defensively, Stevens swung the ball to Garner.
His 3-point attempt didn’t go down, part of a long day for the Nittany Lions, who trailed by as many as 24.
“We’ll learn from this,” Chambers said. “We’re going to watch film and we’re going to try to get better.”
Penn State at Rutgers
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: The RAC, Piscataway, N.J.
Radio: WQWK 1450