STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Shep Garner didn’t find the clear plastic mask fastened to his face on Friday to be too constricting.
He and the rest of his Penn State teammates weren’t deterred by the loss of two starters, either.
Garner, who suffered a broken nose in Penn State’s win Wednesday against Montana, scored 18 of his 26 points in the first half to lead Penn State to a 79-65 win against Columbia.
The veteran went 10 of 18 from the floor with five 3-pointers on a night the Nittany Lions needed Garner to be at his best. Leading scorer Tony Carr and standout defender Josh Reaves both sat out with sprained ankles.
“I knew I had to step up,” Garner said. “We had a couple of guys down, a couple of guys in foul trouble, so I knew I had to get aggressive and make a couple of shots.”
Lamar Stevens added 14 points and Mike Watkins had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Nittany Lions (4-0).
But Garner got them going early.
Penn State led for all but 4:52 and by as many as 14 midway through the first half after Garner drained his third 3-pointer to give Penn State a 24-11 lead.
Mike Smith led Columbia with 18 points while Quinton Adlesh and Nate Hickman helped chip away at Penn State’s lead with 11 apiece for the Lions (1-2), who cut Penn State’s lead to 38-35 by halftime.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “I think there are obviously a lot of things we need to work on.”
But the Nittany Lions opened the second half with a 13-5 run over the first 4:14 to take control.
“We showed what type of team we can be,” Chambers said. “And the bench depth that we have.”
MONITORING THOSE GUARDS
Chambers had an inkling he’d be without the services of his leading scorer after Carr was hurt Wednesday.
He didn’t know he’d be down two starting guards until Friday morning when Reaves was hurt in shootaround.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Chambers said.
Reaves put up a shot then landed on an assistant coach’s foot on the finish. Chambers described the injury as an ankle sprain but said both players would “try to go” when Penn State plays again on Monday.
“I’m more optimistic about Tony,” Chambers said.
MAN IN THE MASK
Garner had never played with a mask before and was fitted for one following the Montana game on Wednesday night.
He tried out a beige version in the team’s pregame practice but wasn’t happy with how it limited his vision.
It also didn’t look nearly as cool.
“It was like a superhero mask,” Garner said. “I just got the clear one today, I felt better about it going into the game. I could see the whole court.”
THREE POINT GUARDS
In past seasons, Chambers has had to get creative in order to manage the wear and tear on his point guard.
Now that he’s got more than one capable ball-handler on his roster, it’s not as tough.
Carr and Garner had both brought the ball up the court in the first three games but Carr’s absence allowed Penn State to get an extended look at freshman Jamari Wheeler. The speedster played 36 minutes, scored seven points, notched four assists, three steals and just one turnover.
“If we don’t have him and Shep’s got to play 40 and be the point and score and defend, it’s too much,” Chambers said. “Trust me, I’m going to be carrying three point guards every chance I get.”
Columbia: The Lions need to do everything better if they want to compete in the Ivy League. Columbia hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 27-28 last season. The Lions won two in a row just twice a year ago when they went 5-9 in conference play.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ depth was tested for the first time this season with Carr and Reaves unable to play. Nazeer Bostick and Jamari Wheeler played well in their places and Satchel Pierce has been tough to play against down low with Watkins in early foul trouble.
Columbia: Travels to Army on Tuesday.
Penn State: Plays Pittsburgh in the Legends Classic at the Barclays center in New York on Monday.
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