Lions put an end to six-game losing streak
By Mark Brennan
For the Mirror
UNIVERSITY PARK – Things were bound to click for struggling Penn State sooner or later. Unfortunately for Rutgers, it happened Saturday at the BJC.
The Nittany Lions (13-7, 1-6) broke out of their six-game losing streak to start Big Ten play with a resounding 79-51 victory over the Scarlet Knights. To say PSU took out six games of frustration on RU (10-11, 2-6) – which somehow won the previous meeting between the two teams – would be an understatement.
“We didn’t handle anything well tonight,” said Scarlet Knight coach Eddie Jordan, who apparently was so dazed he forgot the game was played in the afternoon.
“It definitely was a good feeling to finally put 40 minutes together,” said Lion guard D.J. Newbill, who had a game-high 23 points and for once got plenty of help from his teammates. “We played together, we played smart, we played physical. We played Penn State basketball for 40 minutes, which we hadn’t done all year until today.”
Of all the things that went right for Penn State, the most important was its effective 3-point shooting. The Lions were 10 of 20 in the game, and the long ball gave them confidence early on.
PSU’s first four buckets were all triples. The Lions made 7 of 12 from the arc in the first half in grabbing a 41-28 lead at intermission. This from a team that went into the game ranked 13th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage (30).
“Your offense always looks good when the ball is going in the basket,” PSU coach Pat Chambers said. “We’ve been taking the same shots the last three games.”
Chambers admitted that the hot shooting indirectly had a positive impact on other areas of the Lions’ game. They had twice as many assists (18) as turnovers (9). They forced RU into 16 turnovers, and scored a season-high 21 points off of them.
“When you make shots, your defense is going to be better because there’s energy,” he said. “The fans are going crazy.”
To put that halftime score in perspective, realize that Penn State scored a total of 46 in the head-scratching four-point loss to Rutgers in Piscataway Jan. 3.
This time around, the game was effectively over at the half. But Chambers implored the Lions to pour it on.
“It was really important,” he said. “We’ve had a tendency – over my time here – to relax and play the score instead of competing and blowing it out.”
His troops took heed. The Lions opened the second half with 3-pointers from Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner, and then got a conventional 3-point play from Newbill that had the crowd rocking.
The 9-0 run made it 50-28 a minute and a half into the final period. It was 52-30 with 18:08 showing after the teams swapped jumpers, which was notable because PSU could have gone the rest of the game without scoring and STILL won.
Rutgers, playing without power forward Junior Etou (disciplinary suspension), rolled over. The 28-point difference marked Penn State’s largest margin of victory over a Big Ten team since beating Wisconsin by 29 in 1996 and first home win of 20 or more points against a league foe since beating Purdue by 20 in 2012.
The lone negative of the second half was when Taylor crumpled to the floor with an injured right knee just past the midway point. After being examined by the trainer and doctor, he returned to the bench on crutches and with the knee heavily wrapped. But he was seen smiling while talking to teammates and even the officials.
“I don’t have an official update,” Chambers said. “I know he banged knees [with someone]. … “[He is] in great spirits, very positive.”
The entire team was after finally getting the first Big Ten win. Even though it all came together against his program, Jordan was gracious in crediting the Lions and Chambers for never giving up on the season.
“There was no drop-off coming to play us,” Jordan said. “Pat got them in the right frame of mind. They came out like gangbusters. They were gunslingers today, in a good way.”
Game notes: Taylor had 16 for the Lions in only 26 minutes. He also had four assists and six rebounds…. Garner had 13, making 3 of 4 triples. … Athletic forward Kadeem Jack was the only Knight to find his groove offensively, making 8 of 12 shots for 19 points. … Penn State wore its alternate gray uniforms for the first time in Big Ten play this season. … Next up for the Nittany Lions is a Wednesday home game vs. Minnesota. It tips at 7 p.m. and can be seen on BTN.
RUTGERS (10-11): Kone 0-0 0-1 0, Jack 8-12 2-3 19, Lewis 2-3 0-0 4, Daniels 1-4 0-0 3, Mack 3-11 2-2 8, Okoro 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 2-5 1-2 6, Zurich 0-0 0-0 0, Foreman 3-8 1-4 7, Hyde 1-1 0-0 2, Batie 0-2 0-0 0, Doorson 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 21-48 6-14 51.
PENN ST. (13-7): Taylor 6-10 2-2 16, Travis 2-4 0-2 4, Newbill 8-12 5-5 23, Thorpe 2-6 4-4 9, Garner 5-8 0-0 13, Banks 2-7 0-0 5, Foster 2-3 0-0 4, Jack 1-3 0-0 3, Montminy 0-1 0-2 0, Dickerson 0-1 0-0 0, Wisniewski 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 29-57 11-15 79.
Halftime-Penn St. 41-28. 3-Point Goals-Rutgers 3-13 (Daniels 1-2, Jack 1-2, Williams 1-3, Batie 0-1, Foreman 0-1, Mack 0-4), Penn St. 10-20 (Garner 3-4, Newbill 2-4, Taylor 2-5, Thorpe 1-1, Jack 1-2, Banks 1-3, Foster 0-1). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Rutgers 28 (Williams 5), Penn St. 32 (Taylor 6). Assists-Rutgers 12 (Mack 3), Penn St. 18 (Thorpe 5). Total Fouls-Rutgers 15, Penn St. 15. A-8,281.