After a thrilling, yet exhausting victory over St. John's, arguably the greatest of Pat Chambers' tenure at Penn State, the Nittany Lions took to the Barclays Center just 19 hours later to play for a championship. Sure, it was just for the Barclays Center Classic trophy that nobody cares about, but for a program that has stumbled so epically in these exempt events, it was a grand opportunity for this team to build their résumé for postseason consideration.
Some were concerned by the energy level PSU would be able to bring to floor this afternoon, especially guys like DJ Newbill, who had played all 45 minutes of the St. John's game. But it was evident early on that the legs were still there when jump-shots were finding nylon. The Lions offense marched on, torching the Ole Miss defense for easy buckets at the rim or open three-pointers.
But the early season narrative continued on the defensive end. Ole Miss jumped out to a ridiculous start, scoring 28 points before the 10:00 minute mark in the first half. They made 6 of their first 7 three-point attempts and led by as many as 11 points in the first half. The Lions were able to cut it to 5 at the break, losing only 44-39, but that early stretch by the Rebels had PSU on their heels early.
Penn State came out with purpose in the second period, continuing to score at a high rate while beginning to offer much better resistance to the Rebels' attack. DJ Newbill had himself another brilliant performance (23 points on 14 shots), while Ross Travis had another Boss game, scoring 17 points and corralling 13 rebounds in one of his best efforts in the blue and white. Tim Frazier didn't have his greatest shooting performance (9 points, 3-13 from the field), but he did have 10 assists with just 1 turnover.
It was a see-saw affair throughout the homestretch of the game, as Marshall Henderson did Marshall Henderson-things. For those that do not know of the Rebel guard that means he took terrible shots, made some of them, and trash-talked to any and all spectators in attendance. Credit to him, though, because he made some very difficult shots that put the pressure on Penn State.
But in all college basketball games that come down to the last possession, everything within the last 4 minutes is magnified even moreso. Penn State found themselves down five, 75-70, with just over 2 minutes to go. After two Allen Roberts some free throws, DJ Newbill caused a turnover and crammed a vicious dunk on the break on Mr. Henderson himself. But that was the last break that would go PSU's way.
Roberts then made a great #ATTITUDE dive on the next possession to create a turnover. But instead of calling Henderson for a foul when he dove on Roberts, who already seemed to have control of the basketball, the play was ruled a jump-ball and the possession arrow favored the Rebels. Marshall didn't take too much time to hoist up another ill-advised shot attempt on the ensuing possession, but it was smothered by DJ Newbill.
Or so everyone thought. That's not how TV Teddy Valentine saw it and his eyes were the only ones that mattered. He whistled DJ Newbill for the shooting foul and awarded Henderson with three foul shots. You can make your own judgment on the call yourself (1:37 into the highlights), but there were many observers who also suggested the call was questionable. Credit Marshall for calmly draining all three foul shots that pushed the lead back up to four with just over a minute to play. Penn State wasn't able to convert anything on their last couple of possessions, DJ Newbill fouled out and PSU went home with a what-could-have-been, 79-76 loss.
Four Factors Analysis
This game was even across the board, numbers-wise. It continues to feel like PSU struggles mightily at defending their defensive glass, but the percentages continue to be in PSU's favor (anything <32% on OReb% is good defensive rebounding). There were a couple of untimely second opportunities for the Rebels that didn't help PSU's cause in the waning moments.
It's also worth noting that the Lions weren't able to get to the foul line in the second half, nor did they convert when they got there (just 3-7 with missed one-and-one opportunities). The shooting was strong once again, but the PSU offense hit some lulls at all the wrong times (i.e. the last 10 minutes of the game). You would have liked to see the Lions force more turnovers and create fastbreak opportunities, but in the first half, it was hard enough just hoping for a proper closeout on shooters.
Player of the Game
I feel bad for Ross Travis, because he had a hell of a performance, but this was DJ Newbill's game. He absolutely owned the Barclays Center, scoring a total of 48 points on 32 shots (20-32, 6-11 from 3). He made big play after big play down the stretch that helped PSU mount its comeback. His 3-pointer is a complete revelation from a year ago while he is still able to muscle his way to the rack against anyone. He also had 4 rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal to go with just 1 turnover in 34 more minutes.
- This Team Is For Real - The biggest takeaway from the weekend is that Penn State went toe-to-toe with two highly athletic teams that should make the NCAAs this season (Ole Miss definitely, St John's maybe) and damn near notched two quality wins. This team showed they can score almost at will against quality defenses.
- Defense Continues Struggles - Chambers has never been one for moral victories, and he is sure as hell not babying his team now. He was very harsh on the team's defense in the first 10 minutes of the game, saying they were "sleepwalking" and "did not deserve to win the game". A huge cause of the defensive breakdowns is the youth along the front line, but they'll only get better with more minutes. It shall be interesting to see where they're at defensively come conference season.
- Freshmen Guards Contribute - Graham Woodward and Geno Thorpe played a bit more than usual in this game due to the short turnaround. They were ready to go as they both made key buckets in the first half.
- Donovon Jack - This guy is going to be really good when he's able to move over to his more natural 4 spot or packs on some more strength. His instincts, footwork and shooting touch continues to impress, but his struggles fouling keep plaguing the young sophomore. PSU needs him to stay on the court.
- Learning Experiences - Two highly competitive games will go a long way for this young group who is still learning how to win. PSU certainly was sluggish down the stretch in both games as they continue to niche their roles in crunch-time. With this team poised to make noise in the Big Ten, these experiences in close games will come in handy around January.
Big Ten is so tough and deep in the upper half that Penn State won't rise THAT much. But this team is going to win games. Run great offense.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) November 30, 2013
It doesn't get any easier for the Nittany Lions, who now have to travel to Peterson Events Center to take on KenPom's #4 Pitt Panthers. Jamie Dixon's team was a bit sluggish versus Duquesne, but they're already 7-0 on the season and will enter the polls on Monday. More to come on the matchup with the Panthers in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this week.
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