Penn State played without suspended guard Tony Carr on Sunday at George Mason. It certainly didn’t slow the Nittany Lions down.
Lamar Stevens scored 23 points and added 12 rebounds for his first career double-double, Mike Watkins added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Penn State dominated in the post on its way to a 72-54 victory Sunday.
“Coach pushed us harder,” Watkins said. “This was a great team we were going against. Playing against them and playing without Tony, who’s a big factor on our team, we had to pick up the loose ends.”
Carr, who is averaging a team-high 20 points, was suspended for a violation of team rules. Coach Patrick Chambers said the sophomore will return Tuesday for the Nittany Lions (9-3).
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Penn State would have been wise to exploit the undersized Patriots (5-7) even with Carr. His absence made the decision to turn to the frontcourt even easier.
Stevens and Watkins combined for 24 points on 11 of 14 shooting in the first half, and Watkins had nine points during an 11-2 spurt that gave Penn State a 20-10 lead. Its edge never fell below eight after that.
Stevens, who had totaled just 14 points in his last two games, created problems both in the post and on the perimeter.
“He was really focused on trying to rebound the basketball, and we saw him be ferocious,” Chambers said. “We went to him early and often and he did some good things for us, some good drives, had a good 15-footer, got himself to the free throw line. He looked for Mike a bunch. I thought he played a quality game on both ends of the floor.”
Penn State owned a 26-8 scoring advantage in the paint in the first half and a 40-26 edge inside for the game.
Sophomore Justin Kier scored a team-high 17 points for George Mason, which committed 15 turnovers and was 0 of 14 from 3-point range. The Patriots have averaged 52.5 points and are 4 of 37 on 3-pointers in their last two games.
“We’re a better team than we’ve shown the last two nights,” George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. “We know that. This is the same group that put together some pretty good performances against good teams, but we’re in a little bit of a funk right now offensively.”
Penn State: The Nittany Lions won back-to-back games for the first time since opening the season on a five-game winning streak and will try to remain sharp during a three-game homestand before resuming Big Ten play Jan. 2 at Maryland.
George Mason: The Patriots, who beat Mississippi and Oklahoma State two years ago and Penn State last season, finish 0-3 against power conference teams in Paulsen’s third season. Mason also lost to Louisville and Auburn.
This was the back end of a home-and-home series, one that brought Penn State junior Josh Reaves back to his hometown. Reaves scored 13 points in front of several dozen friends and family members in what he said was his first game in Fairfax since his junior year of high school.
“Getting Josh home was important because of what he meant to our program,” Chambers said. “He took a leap of faith committing to us, and sometimes when things aren’t going your way and you’re not winning a ton, guys have a tendency to want to leave. That’s not the type of person he is. That’s not the type of character he has. It was an easy decision to do this game and come here.”
The most striking part of George Mason’s game atmosphere is the pep band led by Michael Nickens, also known as Doc Nix. It turns out fans aren’t the only ones who pay attention to the Green Machine, which earned fame during the Patriots’ 2006 Final Four run.
“That band is unbelievable. I caught myself looking over a couple times,” Chambers said. “Doc is tremendous. Please tell him I said that. I might have to hire him for a party or two.”
Penn State: The Nittany Lions face a quick turnaround as they play host to Binghamton (8-4) on Tuesday.
George Mason: The Patriots complete nonconference play Friday against Morgan State (4-6).