UNIVERSITY PARK - It took Penn State sophomore forward Donovan Jack four games to find his offensive rhythm. But when things came together for the 6-foot-9, 210-pound lefty against La Salle at the Jordan Center Tuesday night, the results were impressive.
The Nittany Lions (3-1) pulled away late for a 79-72 win over a veteran Explorer outfit that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season. And that was due in large part to Jack, whose 3-point shooting (he was 4 of 6) led to a career high 18 points and helped make La Salle (2-2) adjust to Penn State's preferred style.
"Now you've got to deal with him," Lion coach Pat Chambers said. "[He's able] to stretch [the defense] and pull a five man out of the paint."
Power forward Brandon Taylor was effective from distance, too, making 2 of 4 triples and finishing with 15 points.
All five PSU starters reached double figures. But when the game was on the line in the second half, Jack and Taylor forced La Salle's hand. Trailing 56-54, Jack got the ball at the high post and dished low to Taylor for a tying layup at the 11:15 mark. Then Jack scored inside off an offensive rebound, and then he bombed in his fourth trey of the night to make it 61-58 with 9:39 left.
By that time, Jack and Taylor had combined for five 3-pointers. So Explorer coach Dr. John Giannini pulled bruising big men Steve Zack (245 pounds) and Jerrell Wright (255) in favor of five perimeter players.
"The fact that their big guys can shoot forced us to play smaller later in the game," he said. "And then we couldn't match up with them on the glass."
Penn State countered the small look by sending Jack to the bench - he stayed there for roughly the final eight minutes - to go with three guards, and forwards Taylor and Ross Travis. The Lions, whose guards and smaller forwards are used to pounding the boards, controlled the action on both ends of the floor the rest of the way.
They led 61-60 with 7:04 showing and went on a 9-0 run from which La Salle never recovered.
Senior guard Tim Frazier had an off night shooting for PSU but it did not matter. He dished out 11 assists (to go along with 15 points). Backcourt mate D.J. Newbill had 14 points, and Travis had 13 and eight rebounds. Taylor set a career high with eight caroms of his own.
But Jack's night was off the charts when compared to his earlier performances. His previous career high in points was eight, which he set vs. Delaware State as a freshman. In three previous games this season, he had a total of 15 points. He had two career 3-pointers heading into Tuesday night's action.
"I was just playing my game, playing off instincts," he said afterward.
How much of an impact can a post player with range have for Penn State this season?
"Any time you add another 3-point shooter to your team, it dramatically changes it. Especially when it's a big guy," Giannini said. "He'll be open all year long. Big guys really struggle to guard the arc. I don't know if he'll shoot 4 of 6 every night, but he's clearly a good shooter."
Game notes: As well as State's starters played, Chambers got only three points from his bench. They came from senior guard Allen Roberts, who replaced Jack at the end of the game. ... Penn State blocked seven shots, including a career-high four by Taylor. ... Taylor Dunn, the son of former Penn State coach Jerry Dunn, is a senior guard for the Explorers. Typically a bench player, he was given the start in this game and made a pair of 3-pointers in seven minutes. He still lists State College as his hometown. ... Guard Tyrone Garland led the Explorers with 18 points but made only 6 of 18 shots. ... Penn State is off until facing Longwood of the Big South Sunday at the BJC. The game tips at 1 p.m.
LA SALLE (72): Wright 5-6 0-0 10, Zack 5-10 2-2 12, Duren 5-12 4-4 16, Dunn 2-2 0-0 6, Garland 6-18 4-4 18, Peterson 1-3 2-4 4, Mills 1-6 0-0 2, K. Lewis 1-3 2-2 4, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 14-16 72.
PENN STATE (79): Jack 6-9 2-2 18, Taylor 6-10 1-2 15, Travis 6-10 0-0 13, Newbill 5-14 5-6 15, Frazier 5-13 4-4 15, Roberts 1-6 0-0 3, Thorpe 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 12-14 79.
Halftime-La Salle 42-40. 3-Point Goals-La Salle 6-16 (Dunn 2-2, Garland 2-5, Duren 2-6, Peterson 0-1, Mills 0-2), Penn St. 9-22 (Jack 4-6, Taylor 2-4, Travis 1-2, Frazier 1-3, Roberts 1-5, Newbill 0-2). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-La Salle 35 (Wright, Zack 10), Penn St. 33 (Taylor, Travis 8). Assists-La Salle 11 (Duren 4), Penn St. 18 (Frazier 11). Total Fouls-La Salle 17, Penn St. 14. A-4,240.