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Non-Conference Preview: Penn State

Oct. 7, 2016

By Wiley Ballard – Georgia Tech makes its first road trip of the season Nov. 29 when the Yellow Jackets visit Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the third time the teams are meeting as part of the annual inter-conference event. This is the sixth in a series of previews of the Yellow Jackets’ non-conference opponents.

Location: State College, Pa.
Home arena: Bryce Jordan Center (15,261)
2015-16 Record: 16-16 overall, 7-11 in Big Ten (10th), 121st in NCAA RPI
Post-Season: lost to Ohio State in first round of Big Ten Tournament, 79-75
NCAA Postseason Appearances: 9 (last in 2011)
All-time series record: Penn State leads 2-1 (last meeting on 12/3/2008, Penn State won 85-83)
Head coach: Patrick Chambers (entering sixth season, 72-91)
Starters returning/lost: 3/2
Top scorer returning: Shep Garner (14.5 ppg)
Top rebounder returning: Payton Banks (4.4 rpg)

Quick preview for 2016-17

Coach Patrick Chambers returns three starters from a 2015-16 squad that won seven Big Ten games (the most since 2010-11). Yet it’s the newcomers who’ve generated the energy around the Bryce Jordan Center. Three highly-rated freshmen (Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Nazeer Bostick) will begin their careers this fall as one of the top classes in the country. It’ll be up to returning starters Shep Garner, Payton Banks, and Josh Reaves to show the rookies the ropes. Garner ranked 14th in points per game and 12th in assists per game in the conference. Meanwhile Banks and Reaves are the team’s leading returning rebounder and shot blocker, respectively.

Quick recap of 2015-16

A 10th-place finish in the Big Ten isn’t much to write home about, but the Nittany Lions flashed a glimpse of promise in the season’s final month, going 5-3 before an early exit in the conference tournament. Penn State pulled off two stunning upsets over No. 22 Indiana and No. 4 Iowa over a 12-day span, leading to the program’s first winning February since 1998. The key to Penn State’s moderate success in 2015-16 was its defense and turnover margin – both of which ranked in the top half of the conference. The Nittany Lions have room for improvement going into 2016-17 after shooting a league-worst 65.8 percent.

Greatest program accomplishment

1954 Final Four – Penn State’s most celebrated athletic program is without question the football team. But one of the program’s iconic moments came on the hardwood in March of 1954. Behind a ferocious big six-foot-five Jesse Arnelle and fellow two-sport star Jack Sherry, Penn State reached the Final Four. On their way to the national semifinal, the Nittany Lions downed No. 14 LSU and No. 6 Notre Dame (snapping the Fighting Irish’s 18-game win streak). The run ended as LaSalle triumphed 69-54 on its way to the national title. In the last 60 years, Penn State has reached the Sweet 16 only once, in 2001 where the Nittany Lions fell to Temple in the Georgia Dome.

Greatest player in program history

Jesse Arnelle (1951-55) – In the history of Penn State basketball, there have been only four All-American selections. Of those four, Jesse Arnelle earned three (1952, 1954 and 1955). The 6-5 forward holds the school records for points per game (21.0), rebounds per game (12.0) and career rebounds (2,138). Arnelle also became Penn State’s first black student body president in 1955. After his time at State College, Arnelle played one season for the Fort Wayne Pistons at age 22 before serving in the Air Force and Peace Corps. Arnelle then went on to become a successful lawyer and opened his own firm. He was presented with the Lion’s Paw award in 2000 given to Penn State’s most distinguished alumni.

Place to visit on campus or in the city

Mount Nittany – Arguably the most recognizable landmark in all of State College (aside from Beaver Stadium), Mount Nittany towers high above Happy Valley. In addition to its 2,077 feet of elevation, the icon also lays claim to the origin of Penn State’s beloved mascot.

So it goes that a Native American Princess, Nit-A-Nee, buried her soulmate, Lion’s Paw, in the heart of the valley before a terrible storm rocked the valley. Princess Nit-A-Nee stood atop the grave absorbing the flashing lightning and booming thunder as all others shuddered and watched fearfully. By dawn the princess and Lion’s Paw’s grave had been replaced by a single, colossal mountain.

Today, Mount Nittany overlooks the Penn State campus and is located just five miles from the Bryce Jordan Center. Hiking of the mountain is encouraged, and the trail is believed to be the most family friendly trail in the Valley.


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