Ross Travis caught a pass on the wing Sunday against Longwood, and the opposing bench yelled something that would have been unimaginable last year: “Shooter!”
Though the 6-foot-6 small forward missed the open 3-pointer, the fact that Penn State’s big men are not only attempting — and making — outside shots is forcing opponents to stretch their defenses. Travis is shooting just 20 percent (2-for-10) from beyond the arc this season, but he and fellow forwards Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack have accounted for half of Penn State’s 40 made 3-pointers in five games this season.
The trio has averaged a collective 42 points per game in the Nittany Lions’ last two contests, and they will look to continue the output when they host Monmouth at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Bryce Jordan Center.
“Their post guys pose a unique problem that I do not believe we will be the only team that struggles with because of their ability to shoot the basketball from deep,” said Longwood coach Jayson Gee, whose team was handed a 93-67 beating by the Nittany Lions on Sunday.
“When you have three front-line guys that can shoot the ball, it makes it difficult to guard. … I do not know how the Big Ten forwards and centers are going to come out and defend that. So on a hot night I think they can beat anybody on their schedule.”
While Travis’ 3-point numbers aren’t great, his percentage is up from 12.5 from distance last season, and Penn State (4-1) is hitting 38.5 percent of its threes as a team. The 6-foot-7 Taylor and 6-foot-9 Jack have a lot to do with that.
Taylor has made 13 of his 27 3-point attempts, while Jack is 5 for 9 beyond the arc and both sophomores have had career showings in the last week. Jack scored 18 points — the most of his collegiate career — and was 4 for 6 on 3-pointers in Penn State’s 79-72 win against La Salle last Tuesday. Taylor, on the other hand, netted a career-high 25 points and hit five of his nine treys against Longwood.
“It gives you more options offensively and defensively, too,” coach Patrick Chambers said of his frontcourt productivity. “We do some different things with them on the floor to help us get more stops. That is a luxury to have and now we are starting to gain some depth, so that’s a good thing.”
Taylor got a lot of minutes as a freshman last season, when he attempted 112 threes, but made just 28.6 percent of them. He attributed his success this season to getting more shots up before and after practice. What Taylor and the rest of the frontcourt has done is take pressure off guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. The duo was expected to lead the Lions offense, but having the team’s forwards as reliable scoring options has allowed Frazier to distribute the ball to a tune of 7.4 assists per game and for both guards to take better shots.
“All five guys come to play every day and that’s the beauty of our team,” Newbill said. “If I’m not on it, BT (Brandon Taylor) is on it. If he’s not, Tim is, or someone coming off of the bench. Our team can adapt and we can really pick up.”
Monmouth (1-3) enters the contest on a three-game losing streak, and it’s the second game of the Barclays Center Classic for both teams. The Hawks and Lions do have one mutual opponent, as both teams played Penn earlier this month. Penn State dispatched the Quakers83-71, while Monmouth sustained a six-point loss to the Ivy League contender.