UNIVERSITY PARK - Nobody can ever accuse Penn State coach Pat Chambers of being a glass-half-empty kind of guy. After watching his team blow a 16-point second-half lead against Delaware State at the Bryce Jordan Center Saturday afternoon, he gathered the troops in a huddle as the game went to overtime.
"Five more minutes of basketball," he recalled telling the Nittany Lions. "Let's go. This is awesome."
Penn State got clutch buckets from guards Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill in the extra session to overcome a three-point deficit and ultimately pull out an 80-76 victory. The Lions improved to 6-4 after winning back-to-back games for the first time this season, while the Hornets fell to 5-6.
"I'm proud of this group," Chambers said afterward. "They went down, and could have folded the tents. They could have said, 'woe is me.' "
With a brutal Big Ten schedule set to tip off in two weeks - and with star guard Tim Frazier lost for the year due to injury - falling in spectacular come-from-ahead fashion to a MEAC team would have been cause for considerable woe among the Lions and their fans.
PSU took a 59-43 lead on freshman forward Donovan Jack's layup with 10:01 left in the game. But from there, the Lions became their own worst enemies.
They were sloppy and lost their offensive rhythm by trying to take the air out of the ball. They became lax on defense. With key cogs Newbill and forward Ross Travis saddled with foul trouble (the latter picked up his fifth with 5:04 remaining), it allowed the Hornets to begin chipping away.
"We thought we had them where we wanted them," Newbill said. "But they played hard. "They're a good team. They made their run."
And yet Penn State still appeared to have the game firmly in hand with 2:58 remaining, when Newbill hit a layup to make it 67-56. But the Lions started bricking free throws. Leading 67-62 with just less than a minute to go, Jack missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Following a DSU missed triple, Lion freshman guard Akosa Maduegbunam - a defensive sub for Newbill - grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He missed both ends of the bonus situation.
Hornet Tyshawn Bell countered with two free throws and then, following a Newbill turnover (for palming), Casey Walker blew to the bucket for an uncontested dunk. The lead was down to 67-66 before Newbill snapped the 10-point run with a pair of free throws at the :20 mark.
Bell made a contested corner 3-pointer (Jack was in his face) with :12 left to tie it at 69-69. Penn State's inbound play vs. the Hornet press went haywire, and somehow guard Nick Colella ended up with the ball on a break. He stumbled down the lane and missed a shot that would have won it.
Note that Colella had made exactly one two-point basket and was shooting 26.5 percent from the floor coming into this game.
Despite everything that went wrong late, Chambers identified what he thought was the real culprit.
"We missed free throws," he said. "I think that really crushed us. You shoot free throws, it's over in regulation."
Penn State missed three more freebies early in OT and appeared to be down for the count when Bell made a triple to give DSU a 76-73 lead with 1:24 left. But then the Nittany Lion go-to guys took over.
PSU worked the ball around until Colella found Marshall for an open 3-pointer. He made the shot - the Lions' only trey after halftime - to tie it at 76-76. Tahj Tate missed two free throws for the Hornets and then Newbill used a stop-and-go move to spring himself free for a layup.
"Coach tells us to change speed," Newbill said. "That's something I think I do well."
Penn State was up 78-76 with 30 seconds left. Albert Thomas missed a layup for DSU, and Lion rookie Brandon Taylor cleared the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to account for the final score.
There was plenty not to like from the Nittany Lions' perspective in this game. They blew out to a 21-3 lead but never could deliver the knockout punch in the first half. They allowed the Hornets to make 10 3-pointers. And they allowed DSU to make half its shots in the second half.
But there were positives, too. Newbill and Marshall were their usual steady selves with 22 and 15 points, respectively. Chambers got the best game of the season out of the previously struggling Borovnjak (14 points, eight rebounds). Jack delivered eight points and three boards off the bench.
And, of course, there was the way the team rallied when it seemed to be in trouble in overtime. After struggling in close games in 2011-12, the Lions are now 5-0 in contests decided by eight points or less this season - including a pair of overtime victories.
"That's progress," Chambers said.
Game notes: Chambers said sophomore forward Pat Ackerman is back with the team after serving a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. Ackerman had been out of action since Nov. 27. ... Walker led DSU with 24 points, but only seven came after halftime. ... The Lions get a few days off to concentrate on finals. Their next game is not until Dec. 23 (a Sunday), when New Hampshire visits.
DELAWARE ST. (5-6): M. Oliver 3-3 3-3 9, Gray 0-4 0-0 0, Tate 2-10 5-8 10, A. Thomas 4-7 5-7 13, Walker 8-19 3-4 24, Joyner 0-1 0-0 0, Bell 5-11 2-2 15, Bowman, Jr. 0-1 0-0 0, B. Oliver 1-1 0-0 2, Sill 1-3 0-0 3, Lawson 0-0 0-0 0, Doyle 0-0 0-0 0, Coger 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-60 18-24 76.
PENN ST. (6-4): Taylor 2-7 2-2 7, Borovnjak 3-4 8-10 14, Travis 2-4 2-2 6, Newbill 8-13 5-6 22, Marshall 4-13 4-7 15, Maduegbunam 1-2 0-2 2, Jack 4-5 0-2 8, Montminy 0-0 0-0 0, Colella 2-5 0-0 6, Graham 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-53 21-31 80.
Halftime-Penn St. 37-29. End Of Regulation-Tied 69. 3-Point Goals-Delaware St. 10-30 (Walker 5-13, Bell 3-7, Sill 1-3, Tate 1-5, A. Thomas 0-1, Joyner 0-1), Penn St. 7-18 (Marshall 3-7, Colella 2-3, Newbill 1-2, Taylor 1-4, Travis 0-1, Maduegbunam 0-1). Fouled Out-M. Oliver, Travis. Rebounds-Delaware St. 34 (Walker 11), Penn St. 38 (Borovnjak 8). Assists-Delaware St. 10 (A. Thomas 6), Penn St. 15 (Marshall, Newbill 5). Total Fouls-Delaware St. 24, Penn St. 21. A-5,751.