Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said his team needs to play harder.
The Nittany Lions played hard at times, but they lacked energy in the first half of their season-opening 87-81 loss to Albany on Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Chambers’ team rallied in the second half but ultimately couldn’t overcome a 16-point halftime deficit, and the coach thought his team’s effort contributed to the slow start.
“I feel like we’re a ‘feel good team’ right now, where we’re making shots, we’re going to play hard,” Chambers said. “That was evident in the second half. When we’re missing shots, head goes down, shoulders go down.”
The Nittany Lions started to get stops during their second-half comeback fueled by guard Shep Garner, who finished with a game-high 25 points. Tony Carr and Payton Banks each had 14 points, while Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens each added 10 points.
Joe Cremo scored 22 points to lead the Great Danes in the road win over a Big Ten opponent.
“They’re supposed to win,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “They’re bigger, they’re more athletic, they’re supposed to be more talented and I’m proud of my guys because I thought we went toe-to-toe with them and we didn’t back down.”
Garner said Penn State didn’t take Albany lightly.
But Banks said the Nittany Lions didn’t play with energy in the first 20 minutes. And it showed defensively as Albany shot 46.9 percent from the field and went 5 for 9 from 3-point range en route to building a 41-25 lead.
The Nittany Lions simply didn’t get stops.
And it affected their play on the offensive end — Penn State shot 33.3 percent from the field and finished 2 for 7 from beyond the arc in the first half.
“It all comes down to stops,” Banks said.
That’s how Penn State got back in the game.
After Albany took a 72-59 lead with 6:06 to play, the Great Danes missed eight of their next 11 shots. During that same stretch, Garner got hot.
Garner scored 12 straight points for the Nittany Lions, pulling them within 78-74 with 2:20 left.
Garner credited his run to the team’s defensive effort.
“It made easy offense for us,” Garner said.
Penn State had a chance to make it a one-possession game after a block by Watkins, but Carr was whistled for a walk to turn it over.
Cremo then hit a runner off the glass to push the lead to 80-74.
The Nittany Lions did pull within one possession when Garner drew a foul on a 3-pointer and knocked down the free throws to cut Albany’s lead to 82-79 with 16.9 seconds left.
But Albany’s Marqueese Grayson answered with a pair of free throws to ice the win.
“We just got to keep plugging away, keep developing those habits,” Chambers said.
Notes: Stevens, Watkins, Carr, Garner and Terrence Samuel started for Penn State. … Banks played 22 minutes and went 5 for 11 from the field after being out the last few weeks of the preseason due to a hamstring injury. … The Nittany Lions finished with nine assists and 12 turnovers. … Penn State hosts Duquesne at 6 p.m. Sunday.