UNIVERSITY PARK — With Penn State clinging to a six-point lead with less than six minutes remaining in the game, Jon Graham took one powerful dribble to the right, rolled off his defender to his left and made a left-handed layup off the glass.
After Pennsylvania missed a 3-pointer on its next possession, Graham ran the floor, pinned his defender to his back and used his right hand to give Penn State a 10-point lead.
“I love the kid so much,” Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said of Graham. “He just wants to please and wants to play so hard and do the right things.”
Graham’s four points were part of a 6-0 run that helped Penn State (4-3) hold off Pennsylvania (2-6) 58-47. They were his only points of the game. He also added four rebounds and three blocked shots.
Penn State's Jermaine Marshall led all scorers with 18 points by hitting 9-for-10 from the foul line. D.J. Newbill added 13 points and had four assists.
Penn was led in scoring by Tony Hicks’ 10 points. The Quakers balanced scoring attack received points from nine different players.
After Graham’s second basket gave the Nittany Lions a 49-39 lead, Penn called timeout with exactly five minutes remaining. An exuberant Chambers met his redshirt sophomore at the foul line and wrapped both of his arms around the 6-foot-8 forward.
“I knew his confidence was down,” Chambers said of Graham, who missed two short baskets and two free throws in the first half. “Because he’s a great defender and I believe in him, I put him back in the game … and I just wanted to let him know I got his back.”
Penn State withstood two gritty Penn runs in the second half that proved to be the difference in the game.
With a 31-22 lead at halftime, Newbill scored on two fast-break dunks to begin the second half for the Nittany Lions. But Penn responded with a 9-2 run that was punctuated when Hicks drove the right baseline and dunked over Sasa Borovnjak.
After a Nick Colella layup and another Newbill basket, Penn State pushed the lead back to 10. Penn would respond again with an 8-2 run, but after a left-handed layup by Marshall and Graham’s two easy ones, the Quakers just couldn’t recover.
“Our inability to execute when we got stops (was key),” said Penn coach Jerome Allen. “I need to do a better job of explaining our objective and try to get our guys to cover the little things.”
Penn State began the game with more intensity and aggression than was displayed in Wednesday’s home loss to Boston College.
The Nittany Lions shot 47 percent from the field in the first half and 71 percent from the 3-point line. They also shot 10 of 14 from the foul line compared to just 1 of 3 for the Quakers in the first half.
For the game, Penn State shot 17 of 23 from the foul line compared to Penn’s 6 of 10.
Another early key to the game was the combined point guard efforts of Newbill and Marshall against Penn’s pesky man-to-man full-court pressure. The duo combined for just two first-half turnovers and only three for the game.
In the first halves of the previous two games, Newbill alone committed nine turnovers. He had just one turnover in the entire game against Penn. Marshall, who brought the ball up against pressure several times when Newbill was covered, committed just two turnovers.
“(He) helps tremendously,” Newbill said of being able to share duties with Marshall. “I’m not a pure point guard and neither is Jermaine, but when we can tag team and work together to start the offense it helps out a lot.”
Brandon Taylor got the Nittany Lions off to a quick start by hitting a few early 3-pointers. The freshman played a career-high 31 minutes and scored all 11 of his points in the first half.
Ross Travis scored seven points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. Travis rolled his left ankle in the first half but returned after halftime.
Penn State played the more physical game, but with the Nittany Lions up 52-44 with less than two minutes remaining, Marshall stole the ball from Penn’s Miles Cartwright and raced down the court for a layup. Penn freshman guard Jamal Lewis grabbed Marshall from behind and slung him to the ground with 1:44 remaining.
Lewis received a flagrant foul and was ejected from the game. Marshall said he did not think the foul was malicious.
Penn State will play the second of back-to-back Philadelphia schools on Wednesday when the Nittany Lions travel to the Palestra in Philadelphia, to face La Salle at 9 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.