UNIVERSITY PARK - Don't look now, but Penn State owns the longest active winning streak in the mighty Big Ten. The Nittany Lions topped Purdue 79-68 at the Jordan Center Sunday afternoon, giving them three straight regular-season conference victories for the first time since 2009.
After starting league play with an 0-6 mark this season, Penn State is now 3-6 in the Big Ten and 12-10 overall.
"We were 0-6 a couple weeks ago," third-year coach Pat Chambers said. "What these kids have done to turn things around is keep working, keep digging."
Ironically enough, PSU's last loss was at Purdue Jan. 18, a game that seemed all but won before late breakdowns allowed the Boilermakers to escape with a 65-64 victory.
"That Purdue game was devastating," Chambers said. "It could have gotten ugly. It could been a perfect storm. But they just kept plugging away."
The Lions bounced back by getting it done in clutch situations in wins over Nebraska (at home) and at No. 23 Ohio State (in overtime). Against the Boilermakers - in a rare 11:30 a.m. tip - State appeared to be on the verge of letting things slip away midway through the second half.
In the end, however, the Lions responded when needed, proving they had learned from their early-conference struggles.
"We've been in that situation before," said guard D.J. Newbill, who scored a game-high 19. "... We stayed together, continued to fight."
Purdue opened the game by making seven straight shots and held a 14-7 lead. But Penn State responded with a 12-0 run and, as it turned out, would never trail again.
The Lions appeared to be pulling away for good when Tim Frazier hit a layup with 11:50 left in the game for a 51-41 lead. Then trouble hit. Boiler big man A.J. Hammons was roused from a lethargic effort to that juncture and scored on a conventional three-point play on a stick-back. It was Purdue's second offensive rebound of the game. The Boilermakers finished with 11 offensive boards and 19 second-chance points, which is part of what kept them in the game.
Also helping was Penn State's comedy routine on inbounds plays under its own basket. It started after Hammons' put-back, when Lion forward Brandon Taylor rolled the ball in to Newbill, who promptly walked straight out of bounds to try an inbound-pass himself.
Following the blatant travel, Purdue inbounded and missed a 3-pointer, only to see Hammons grab another O-board. It turned into a layup by Errick Peck that cut the lead to 51-46. Then Lion guard Graham Woodward threw a bad pass that went off Newbill out of bounds. The Boilers responded with a triple from Peck and less than two minutes after leading by 10 State was clinging to a 51-49 edge.
"You knew they were going to come back because they have so much fight in them," Chamber said of Purdue, which lost its third straight game and is now 13-9 and 3-6. "I think Purdue made us do some of the things we did."
Not long after, however, he admitted, "With a 10-point lead, yeah, you have to start putting teams away."
Though the Boilermakers continued to pound the offensive glass and the Lions continued to struggle getting the ball in bounds the rest of the way, Penn State did in fact salt this one away and won relatively easily.
After the ugly stretch above, Frazier and Newbill led a 6-0 spurt that boosted the lead to 57-49. The Boilermakers would never get closer than five from there. The Lions made 11 of their final 12 from the stripe as Purdue kept hacking to try to extend the game.
"It's about getting it done," Frazier said. "There's rarely any blowouts [in the Big Ten]. It comes down to the end and knocking down free throws. Today, we shot it pretty well."
Well enough to claim the Big Ten's longest current winning streak.
"We're definitely on a high right now," Newbill said. "We're playing some great basketball."
Game notes: The 7-foot Hammons was essentially a one-man show for Purdue, with 18 points and 12 rebounds. But Boilermaker coach Matt Painter was unhappy that the big man made only 6 of 12 shots. "They don't have anyone to guard him. He's got to make them pay, and he didn't do that." ... Frazier had 18 and five assists for the Lions, while Taylor had 15 and eight rebounds. ... PSU outrebounded Purdue 40-36 overall and 14-11 on the offensive end. ... Penn State is at No. 6 Michigan State Thursday.
PURDUE (13-9): T. Johnson 4-9 0-0 10, Carter 4-9 1-3 9, R. Johnson 4-13 4-4 12, Smotherman 2-2 0-0 4, Hammons 6-12 6-9 18, Toyra 0-1 0-0 0, Scott 1-2 2-2 4, Stephens 0-1 2-2 2, Simpson 1-3 0-0 2, Peck 2-5 0-0 5, Davis 1-2 0-0 2, Carroll 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 15-20 68.
PENN ST. (12-10): Newbill 5-12 8-10 19, Woodward 2-6 0-0 5, Jack 3-8 0-2 7, Taylor 4-7 5-6 15, Frazier 5-10 8-8 18, Johnson 1-4 3-6 5, Thorpe 0-0 0-0 0, Dickerson 1-1 0-0 2, Wisniewski 0-0 0-0 0, Travis 3-10 2-2 8. Totals 24-58 26-34 79.
Halftime-Penn St. 34-29. 3-Point Goals-Purdue 3-11 (T. Johnson 2-3, Peck 1-2, Toyra 0-1, R. Johnson 0-1, Carter 0-4), Penn St. 5-20 (Taylor 2-4, Newbill 1-2, Woodward 1-4, Jack 1-6, Frazier 0-2, Johnson 0-2). Fouled Out-Dickerson. Rebounds-Purdue 36 (Hammons 12), Penn St. 40 (Taylor 8). Assists-Purdue 12 (Davis, R. Johnson 3), Penn St. 9 (Frazier 5). Total Fouls-Purdue 29, Penn St. 22. Technicals-R. Johnson, Johnson. A-7,832.