At first glance it seemed Penn State — a team coming off an upset victory over previously undefeated Bucknell — would come into its game against Boston College, which was coming off a loss to Division-I newcomer Bryant, with an air of confidence.
After all, the Nittany Lions had won its first full game without Tim Frazier and had reason to crow, while the Eagles surely had reason to cower after a stunning loss to a relative Division I newcomer.
But with Wednesday’s game at the Bryce Jordan Center televised by ESPNU as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Boston College had something to prove.
The Eagles (3-4) outplayed Penn State (3-3) for nearly 35 minutes en route to a 73-61 victory. Boston College was led by freshmen Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, who had 22 points and 14 points, respectively.
The conferences split the challenge with six wins apiece, keeping the Commissioners Cup in the Big Ten’s possession by virtue of the conference winning the 2011 Challenge.
The Eagles jumped on the Nittany Lions early, beginning the game on a 10-2 run authored by four different players. On his way to the team bus after the victory, Boston College’s head coach Steve Donahue said his team came out hungry after the humbling defeat to Bryant (3-2).
Boston College was the Bulldogs’ first win against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. Last season, Bryant won just two games and in the 2009-2010 season they went 1-29. The school began its transition to NCAA Division I status in 2008 and became a full-time member in September 2012.
Besides Hanlan and Rahon, Boston College also got points from six other players, which was significant because the Eagles’ leading scorer on the season Ryan Anderson (15.8 per game entering the contest) played with an injured ankle and managed just six points.
Statistically, Boston College outplayed Penn State — again, for 35 minutes — in most “hustle” categories. The Eagles ended the game with a 38-33 rebounding advantage and scored 15 second-chance points to just three for the Nittany Lions. Boston College’s bench was also important, outscoring Penn State’s bench 20-3.
If it made sense that the Eagles sought redemption after the Bryant loss, by contrast it made little sense that Penn State struggled to find the same intensity it used to dispatch Bucknell until the last five minutes against Boston College.
That is unless you listened to Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers this week.
At his weekly press conference after the Nittany Lions’ upset of Bucknell on Black Friday, Chambers said his team’s confidence was still on “a day-to-day basis,” a result of still trying to find its identity without point guard Tim Frazier.
In Frazier’s stead, D.J. Newbill turned the ball over six times in the first half against the Eagles, but also carried the team offensively with 12 of the Nittany Lions’ 24 first-half points.
Against Bucknell, Newbill also had five first-half turnovers. He would turn the ball over just once in the second half against the Bison and had zero second-half turnovers against the Eagles.
Brandon Taylor, who scored a career-high 16 points against Bucknell, tallied just three points against Boston College as the freshman was saddled early and often with foul trouble. Jermaine Marshall also started slowly but scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.
Down 59-39 after two Hanlan free throws with 5:23 left in the game, Penn State finally made its charge. The Nittany Lions used full-court pressure to force the Eagles into turnovers and catapult themselves into an 18-1 run that featured 12 points from Marshall and six points from Newbill. In fact, the duo scored 21 of the team’s final 22 points (Marshall 14, Newbill 7, Taylor 1).
Penn State would get within a single possession after a 1-for-2 trip at the foul line from Newbill made it 60-57 with 3:08 left. But after a three-point play by Hanlan and a made jumper by Andrew Van Nest, Penn State paid the price for its tardy tenacity and could not recover.
Colella and Travis, not unnoticedAs a team, Penn State might have lacked consistent doggedness, but Nick Colella and Ross Travis were relentless throughout the game.
Travis played 38 minutes, grabbed six rebounds in the first half and seven rebounds in the second half for a career-high 13. He also added five points.
Colella, as has become his custom, dove twice from behind at a fast-breaking ball handler in the first half. Neither effort was successful, but the senior kept at in the second half. His efforts were finally rewarded when he helped ignite the Nittany Lions’ 18-1 run by stealing the ball from Anderson and flipping it to Newbill for a layup. Marshall started the stretch with a 3-pointer with 5:14 remaining on the previous play.