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With loss of Kanye Clary, Penn State must lean even more on Ace Baldwin Jr. in 2024

Penn State had a disappointing first season under coach Mike Rhoades in 2023, finishing ninth in the Big Ten and 16-17 overall. Despite bringing in a robust transfer class that included two of his former VCU players Ace Baldwin Jr. and Nick Kern, the team never fully gelled together.

It didn’t help that sophomore guard and leading scorer Kanye Clary was dismissed from the team by Rhoades in mid-February. With his transfer to Mississippi State ending his time in Happy Valley, it will fall to returning players to pick up the scoring slack left behind.

Penn State returns five of their top seven scorers from last season, but only one who averaged double digits. Ace Baldwin Jr. was the focal point of Penn State’s defense, earning him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He also served as their primary playmaker and secondary scorer, averaging 14.2 points and 6.0 assists. In 2024, they may need him to take on even more.

Rhoades has dipped into the transfer portal again with the addition of Xavier big man Kachi Nzeh, but he is unlikely to make a huge impact offensively.

There are serious questions about whether Baldwin Jr. can handle much more as a scorer, especially with his already poor shooting splits. Similar questions surround the other top returning scorers, however, with just forward Puff Johnson and guard Nick Kern shooting above 40% from the field this season.

Rhoades will need multiple players to step up their shot-making ability in 2024 to take pressure off of Baldwin Jr., but the bulk of the responsibility still falls on him. 2024 will be his final college season, and I know he has his eyes set on making a return to the NCAA tournament. To do so, he must become a more efficient and consistent offensive threat.

I think he has the talent to make it happen, but he may need to sacrifice some of his energy on defense to do it. Will the trade-off be worth it? That’s what he and coach Rhoades will need to determine this offseason. Maybe one or more of their complementary scorers take a huge leap, but there’s no guarantee of that happening. I know I will be looking forward to seeing how they fair in 2024.

Story originally appeared on Nittany Lions Wire