Early surprise VCU set to test Penn State
Jamari Wheeler is the emotional leader for Penn State, but the All-Big Ten defense first team selection and conference steals leader has averaged just three points per game during his first three seasons in Happy Valley.
The senior posted career highs with 18 points and four 3-pointers in Saturday's opener against VMI, an 86-65 victory, and the 6-foot-1 guard will look to build on his best career performance when the Nittany Lions host VCU on Wednesday in University Park, Pa.
"Jamari Wheeler deserved to have a career day today. He has put in so much work. And (his performance) was no fluke, he's been shooting like that every day at practice," Penn State interim coach Jim Ferry said. "He's been one of our best shooters during preseason, and we're going to give him the opportunity to shoot."
Entering the season, Wheeler had never scored more than 14 points or taken more than four 3-point attempts in any game. He took nine threes in the 86-65 win over the Keydets and led five players in double figures.
Ferry was also impressed with the play of Binghamton transfer Sam Sessoms, who had 12 points, four steals and three assists in 28 minutes off the bench.
"Sam gave us a big lift when he came into the game. He was aggressive and helped us put the ball in the basket," Ferry said. "A good player is a good player no matter what level he plays."
Penn State trailed by 12 points in the first half but rallied around a defense that produced a school record-tying 18 steals, including five by Wheeler.
VCU went 2-1 in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, SD over Thanksgiving weekend, posting double-digit victories over Utah State and Memphis sandwiched between a 78-66 loss to No. 15 West Virginia.
Fourth-year coach Mike Rhoades has been pleased with the play of a club that has nine underclassmen and was picked prior to the season to finish ninth in the Atlantic-10.
"These guys love to play basketball, and they really like each other. That's huge," Rhoades said. "And they also know they can get a lot better, too, and we're going to push for that."
Sophomore guard Nah'Shon Hyland led the way for the Rams averaging 16 points per game with junior forward Vince Williams Jr. following at 13.7, including 6 of 13 from the arc.
Williams scored 15 points and the defense forced 19 turnovers while holding Memphis to 35 percent shooting (20 of 57) in Friday's 70-59 triumph.
--Field Level Media