It didn’t matter who was guarding Lamar Stevens.
The Penn State freshman stayed on the attack all game Saturday, finishing drives in the lane, knocking down jumpers and working out of the post against multiple Michigan State defenders.
For the most part, he had his way.
“Lamar is definitely a man child,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “He’s built. His mindset, he’s really got a great approach right now. I think he learned from that very difficult nonconference, like, ‘Even though I’m 6-7, 220, 225, it doesn’t matter.’ It doesn’t matter when you’re playing really good teams.”
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Stevens scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Nittany Lions to a 72-63 win over the Spartans at the Palestra. The 6-foot-7 forward finished 7 for 12 from the field and 4 for 6 from the foul line to reach double figures for the 12th time this season. The Roman Catholic product showed off his versatile skill set and fearless mentality on a familiar court.
Stevens and his Roman Catholic teammates won the Philadelphia Catholic League championship at the Palestra last year.
“I felt at home,” said Stevens, a North Wales native.
Stevens got going on Penn State’s first possession of the game.
With Michigan State’s star freshman Miles Bridges guarding him in the left corner, Stevens made a decisive move, stepping past Bridges into the paint to set up a finger roll on the right side of the lane. It bounced on the rim before Michigan State’s Nick Ward poked it away, resulting in a goaltending call and Stevens’ first points.
Early in the second half, he went right at Bridges, a 6-foot-7 forward who was a McDonald’s All-American. Stevens left a fading runner short, but grabbed the loose ball off his miss and dropped a pass off to Mike Watkins, who was fouled and went to the free-throw line.
With Michigan State within five points with less than 11 minutes left, Stevens drove against Bridges again, creating space with a spin move to his left and hitting a short jumper over 6-foot-5 forward Matt Van Dyk.
“I just attacked the basket,” Stevens said. “It wasn’t a play that was drawn up because it was just open.”
Stevens found open space late in the first half when he took over at center with teammates Mike Watkins (two fouls) and Julian Moore (three fouls) on the bench due to foul trouble.
After Moore picked up his third foul with 1:56 left in the half, Stevens exploited a mismatch against Ward, the Spartans’ 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward.
On the first possession with Moore out, Ward camped out in the middle of paint while Stevens dribbled to the foul line and swished a jumper. Stevens then went to the basket against the Michigan State big man, using a pump fake to get him in the air before finishing an easy layup to push the Nittany Lions ahead 41-32.
“It was definitely in the game plan to have Lamar go to the 5, especially if Ward was out there,” Chambers said. “But it really worked out for us.”
Stevens played like he felt at home at the Palestra on Saturday, continuing to show growth during his freshman season.
“I think he’s just starting to find his way,” Chambers said.