The game of basketball was invented with one primary objective - to throw an orange ball into a round hoop. For the first half on Friday, Penn State couldn't have failed more horribly at this mission. After dominating in nearly every other facet, Chambers' team found themselves down six at the half with just 16 points, despite shooting 17 more shots than Bucknell. It was as dreadful as the numbers tell: 3-18 on 2's (17%), 2-13 on 3's (15%), and 4-10 from the foul line (40%).
Sure, you could say they missed Tim Frazier and his ability to get to the foul line, but this team has had similar struggles shooting so far this season. It wasn't like the offense couldn't manufacture open looks, because they certainly were. Whatever the reason, the Lions couldn't convert on golden opportunities and all of their hard work on defense and rebounding was going to waste.
Who knows what Pat Chambers said to his team at the half, but something finally clicked. Maybe it was just karma coming back into Penn State's favor. Jermaine Marshall banked in a forced three. He also had a shot dance around the rim four or five times before falling. DJ Newbill's shot was tipped right into the arms of Sasa Borovnjak for an easy putback. After a very challenging week in Puerto Rico, everything was falling in Penn State's favor for a change.
The victory was spearheaded by an impressive effort on the defensive end. It was a total turnaround from Akron's shellacking on Sunday. Mike Muscala, Bucknell's big-time center, never got in a rhythm on the block as PSU's ball pressure and collapsing help defense helped keep the big man in check. While he did get to the foul line 8 times, he only attempted 4 shots, three of which were inside. While he still had a great statline - 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks, he wasn't a dominating presence and Bucknell's offense suffered as a result.
It's hard to say where Penn State would've been in this game if it wasn't for Brandon Taylor's big 20 minutes. Bucknell focused on doubling DJ Newbill, leaving the true freshman's pick-and-pop game open. He took advantage with 4 three-pointers and 16 points. His consistency kept Penn State afloat during their offensive ineptitude in the first half (he had 8 of PSU's 16 points at the break).
DJ and Jermaine are going to have to be huge for this team to win without Frazier. In the first half, they combined for just 4 points on 1-of-13 shooting. They stepped up big in the second period as DJ began to settle in against Bucknell's help defense. Newbill finished with 10 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds in his first start at the point. Marshall carried Penn State down the stretch and made some big foul shots on a day where no one was converting (9-20 for the game, 45%).
Guys like Sasa Borovnjak, Jon Graham, Ross Travis, and even Pat Ackerman also had big moments in the win. Ackerman got his first points as a Nittany Lion in the first half, while Travis made his first three-pointer that came late in the second half as PSU extended their lead. Obviously the bigs were great on defense as well, while Sasa provided a few post buckets.
I don't believe anyone saw this performance coming, especially in that second half. This truly defined what Pat Chambers describes as 'Penn State Basketball'. Gritty, all-out effort in spite of any circumstances. They desperately needed a confidence boost and delivered themselves a big one.