D.J. playing is music to Penn State’s ears

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State guard D.J. Newbill averaged 35 minutes per game during the regular season. The Nittany Lions needed every second of that hefty number just to finish 15-17 overall and in 10th place in the Big Ten.

In a CBI game against Hampton at the Jordan Center Wednesday night, though, an efficient 23 minutes from Newbill was enough to propel PSU to a 69-65 victory that kept its season alive. State moves on to a second-round game at Siena Monday.

“D.J., he’s been steady all year,” Lions coach Pat Chambers said afterward. “He’s been the calm in a stormy sea.”

Despite playing significantly fewer minutes than usual due to foul trouble, Newbill finished with 19 points (just above his season average of 17.8). More importantly, the second-team All-Big Ten pick prevented the scrappy Pirates from ever seizing control of the game with their admittedly “ugly” style of play.

Penn State (16-17) led by double figures in the first and second half. But it seemed whenever they would get there, Newbill would head to the bench with foul issues. Then when Hampton (18-13) would get close – and even take its only lead of the night (43-41 with 11:17 to go) – Newbill would return and steady the proverbial ship.

“He played 23 minutes,” Chambers said. “We still came out victorious, which is pretty good. He’s a big-time player and he’s playing like it. His leadership is great.”

Penn State led 37-27 when Newbill picked up his third foul with 17:47 left in the game, and he promptly went to the pine. That allowed Hampton to go on a 16-5 run to take the 43-41 lead.

Newbill returned, and quickly hit a jumper to tie it at 43-43. By the 5:26 mark of the game, PSU was cruising along with a 55-45 lead when Newbill fouled guard Brian Darden as he drove baseline. It was back to the bench for Newbill, and back on a run for the Pirates, who cut it to 55-50 in just over a minute.

Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. admitted, “We like to make the game ugly. We’re not a pretty team. Our execution is through how ugly we can make games. … I think we accomplished that.”

In other words, the Pirates – who were outrebounded 42-18 and had exactly one offensive board in the game – like to drag more talented teams into the gutter to brawl it out. And they did just that. PSU had 15 turnovers in this game, leading to 20 Hampton points. There were a total of 51 fouls called and 69 free throws attempted.

And yet, it only really worked when Newbill was on the bench. Chambers seemed to know this. He shuttled his star in and out of the game over the final 4:12. Newbill’s play, along with clutch efforts by a couple of freshmen, was enough to hold the Pirates at bay.

Rookie guard Geno Thorpe went 4 of 4 from the free throw line in the final 43 seconds. Fellow freshman guard Graham Woodward hit 1 of 2 freebies and inbounded the ball (for the first time this season) against Hampton’s full-court press late. Both finished with 10 points.

“Those guys are really stepping up and making big plays down the stretch,” Newbill said. “It gets me excited (for the future). Those guys are really coming into their own.”

“I think you’re getting a taste of the future,” Chambers added.

As for the Lions as a team, well, they will now be getting another helping of postseason action.

GAME NOTES: Penn State had no chance for a second-round home game because the NCAA Women’s Tournament is being held at the BJC next week. … Senior Tim Frazier had a tough shooting night for PSU (2 of 8) but did have seven rebounds. … Forward Brandon Taylor had 14 points and nine rebounds. … Darden led Hampton with 22 and guard Ke’Ron Brown added 19. Pirate leading scorer Du’Vaughn Maxwell scored only six before fouling out after playing a total of 15 minutes.

HAMPTON (18-13): Maxwell 2-5 2-2 6, Pressley 1-6 0-3 2, Powers 8-12 2-3 19, Darden 5-7 8-11 22, Brown 0-2 2-2 2, Key 1-2 2-2 4, Cooks 0-0 0-0 0, Okoroba 1-2 3-4 5, Jackson 0-2 0-0 0, Meikle 0-3 2-2 2, Mercado 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 19-46 21-29 65.

PENN STATE (16-17): Taylor 4-10 4-4 14, Dickerson 1-1 2-3 4, Johnson 1-3 0-0 2, Newbill 5-10 8-10 19, Frazier 2-8 5-9 10, Woodward 1-1 1-2 4, Jack 0-2 0-2 0, Thorpe 2-4 6-6 10, Wisniewski 0-0 0-0 0, Travis 1-3 4-4 6. Totals 17-42 30-40 69.

Halftime-Penn St. 33-25. 3-Point Goals-Hampton 6-14 (Darden 4-6, Mercado 1-2, Powers 1-3, Brown 0-1, Jackson 0-2), Penn St. 5-17 (Taylor 2-7, Woodward 1-1, Frazier 1-2, Newbill 1-3, Thorpe 0-1, Jack 0-1, Johnson 0-2). Fouled Out-Brown, Maxwell. Rebounds-Hampton 18 (Mercado 4), Penn St. 42 (Taylor 9). Assists-Hampton 6 (Mercado 2), Penn St. 6 (Frazier 3). Total Fouls-Hampton 29, Penn St. 22. Technicals-Brown, Johnson. A-2,118.