Penn State hasn't had much success in non-conference tournaments throughout the years, especially in the opening games. They changed those fortunes Friday night against a quality high-major outfit playing close to home, defeating St. John's 89-82 in overtime. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill once again led the way, combining for 54 points. A sweet win for Pat Chambers, who finally gets a resume-building win for his team's postseason hopes for the first time in his three-year tenure.
The first half belonged to Newbill. The North Philly product continued to display his reworked shot to great effect, going 3-3 from beyond the arc and 7-8 overall. Frazier added 12 himself in the first 20 minutes, though he nearly let the Johnnies all the way back into the game at half with some uncharacteristic mistakes late in the period. Max Hooper seized the opportunity and drained two triples to pull the Red Storm within five before Frazier redeemed himself and forced a turnover to put the Lions up seven at half. Hooper had himself a career night with 15 points on 5-8 three-point shooting, leading a stark shooting turnaround for the hometown team.
It almost turned completely sour for the Nittany Lions, who led by as many as 15 in the second half. St. John's clawed their way back with strong play on defense and an urgency on the glass at both ends. It didn't help that Penn State went ice cold from the floor, making just three field goals over the last ten minutes. As you'd imagine it would, the Red Storm's comeback coincided with Frazier picking up his fourth foul and sitting for an extended period. The Lions looked (or sounded, I didn't shell out ten bucks for the Barclays Center's shoddy scoreboard video stream) flat without their all-conference point guard, and backcourt mates D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV took full advantage and gave the Johnnies a lead in crunch time, only for it to be taken away by one of Frazier's signature open court plays - he drew a shooting foul from behind the three-point line with the Nittany Lions down two with six seconds left. As senior stars as supposed to do, Timmy sank all three to give Penn State a quick lead until Harrison drew another foul, but fortunately for the visitors, only one free throw dropped and the game went to overtime.
The extra five minutes were marred by fouls, most of which were committed by Steve Lavin's squad. Frazier picked up the scoring slack where Newbill left off, recording 10 points from the line in overtime. He also assisted the period's only field goal, a mid-range jumper by Brandon Taylor. Both teams were out of gas soon after overtime began, but St. John's didn't have Tim Frazier.
Four Factors Analysis
This game was touted as a clash of styles and ideas in the run-up, and boy was that the case. St. John's clearly had the more athletic and perhaps skilled bunch, dominating on the glass and finally shooting like a Big East team should. But Penn State was superb in their execution for much of the game, save the Frazier-less period in the second half. Four turnovers in 45 minutes was all the Red Storm could squeeze out of the Lions, whose decision to attack Obekpa and a formidable St. John's frontline on the dribble-drive payed off in spades. You'd have to say the emphasis on hand-checking also benefited Penn State this evening, as St. John's had extreme difficulty guarding Frazier in transition, where the graduate student actively looks for players to bump into to draw the whistle.
Player of the Game
This would've been an easy decision at halftime, as Newbill was almost entirely responsible for Penn State's offensive success to that point, but for his resiliency and leadership in crunch time, Frazier gets the nod. He was only 5-14 from the floor but shot 20 free throws, fouling out St. John's best player, Harrison, in the process. Six assists, five rebounds, ho hum. Tim Frazier 4 All-America, y'all:
Honestly depends on team I had but might lean towards Frazier. Would be talk of country at big school. RT @c32clark: Fran, who do YOU want?— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) November 30, 2013
- Jerome Williams would be proud - Ross/Rawse/Boss Travis had himself the kind of night you want a glue guy having against such a daunting opponent: 10 points, 9 boards and no three point attempts. Even though he fouled out in regulation, he was immense against Obekpa and JaKarr Sampson, who would've had their way on the inside were it not for the 6'6" junior. Ross played the junkyard dog role to perfection and Penn State doesn't sniff this victory without his inside presence.
- Huffing the glue - there wasn't really a fourth standout performance from any Nittany Lions, but Taylor, Donovon Jack and Allen Roberts all made timely shots when Penn State needed them. B-Titty couldn't quite return to his Longwood form, but he found a way to contribute on the glass with nine boards. Jack got a massive tip-in (TWSS) with 1:49 left to give the Lions a three-point lead, and Roberts shook off a poor start from behind the arc to sink two in the second half.
- Four turnovers in 45 minutes - The Red Storm were forcing nearly 14 TOs a game coming in. They made Wisconsin turn it over 10 times in regulation, in South Dakota.
- Pressing their luck - St. John's shot a season-high 42% from the field and 53% from three. Obekpa, a 33% foul shooter, made both of his attempts in overtime. So either Penn State is really bad on defense, or teams just happen to shoot the lights out against the Nittany Lions every night. As per usual with these conundrums, it's probably a combination of the two, but it doesn't make the Nittany Lions' tendency to give up a ton of points any less concerning.
Penn State will play Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson for the Barclays Center Classic title tomorrow at 4:30pm. So once you get sick of the #FiurEveryone talk, flip on over to NBC Sports Network and join the happy (for now) people. More on the Rebels tomorrow.
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