UNIVERSITY PARK — Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill combined for 56 points, but Penn State got little else as No. 18 Michigan State overcame an afternoon “tussle” in its hotel and outlasted the Nittany Lions 81-72 at the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night.
Marshall scored 22 of his career-high 29 points in the second half and also finished with a career-high 10 rebounds for his first ever double-double.
Newbill poured in 18 of his 27 after halftime, added six assists and one perfect description of the pair’s effort.
“We were just trying to will our team to a win,” Newbill said. “We lost, so to us our numbers are shallow.”
After averaging just 49.5 points over its first four conference games, Penn State (8-9, 0-5 Big Ten) finally saw the ball go in the basket.
Statistically, Penn State improved in areas that previously plagued them. They shot 24 of 50 in the game for 48 percent, the best output since the opener against Wisconsin, which recently upset No. 2 Indiana. They also finished with just eight turnovers with just two coming in the second half. They have been dominated from the foul line, but fared well against the Spartans (22 of 30), thanks in large part to Newbill’s 11 of 15 and Marshall’s 6 of 8 nights. The Nittany Lions finished 19 of 27 from the line as a team.
However, the biggest problem was contributions came mostly from two players.
Freshman Brandon Taylor was held scoreless and never really looked comfortable offensively. He finished 0-for-4 from the field with all attempts coming from beyond the 3-point line.
Ross Travis had just two points and three rebounds and was shutout on the offensive glass. Nick Colella was the next highest scorer not named Marshall or Newbill with just six points.
Michigan State received double-digit points from five players. Derrick Nix and Keith Appling each scored 12, while Gary Harris added 14 and Travis Trice 11.
The fifth was perhaps the Spartans most important, as Adreian Payne scored 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting and added seven rebounds in just 17 minutes of play. Payne and Branden Dawson were involved in what Payne called a “tussle” at the Nittany Lion Inn at about 11 a.m.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo brought both players with him to the post-game press conference, hoping to quell what he clearly thought was an incident that would have stayed in house if not for social media.
“I don’t want to make a mountain out of a mole hill so instead of ducking anything … you can ask them a couple of questions and they can answer them right now in front of God and everybody,” Izzo said.
“It was a disappointing thing,” he continued. “It was one of those things that – don’t take this the wrong way – but if it wasn’t for the Twitter-era it would be just another day.”
The two players said they squabbled over a missing practice jersey and the argument escalated, resulting in a hole being put into a hallway wall. The pair said a few punches were thrown and shoves were exchanged. Police were dispatched, but Izzo said no charges would be filed.
As punishment for the incident, neither player started the game and Izzo said the players would pay for any damage.
Once they finally entered the game though, both wreaked havoc on the court.
The 6-foot-10 Payne had no physical equal in the building and after a sub-par first half from his teammates he was just what the Spartans (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) needed.
Penn State played some of its best defense since Wisconsin in the first half, holding the Spartans to 40 percent shooting and forcing seven turnovers to go into intermission down just 29-25.
However, Payne sparked them to a 52-point half and a key 13-4 run that broke the game open.
“He hit some great shots,” said Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers. “He was energized obviously from what happened (earlier). But we didn’t have that punch back when he came in.”
Chambers seemed happy about finally seeing some shots fall, but warned that in the Big Ten success comes from defensive stops. He has dubbed his guys a “feel-good team,” and wants them to play hard even if shots aren’t falling.
“We definitely played harder,” Chambers said. “But we made shots, which is a good thing. But to give up 52 points in a half is not going to get it done … in this league you better get stops and you better get them at home.
“We had a great opportunity tonight and I thought we let it slip away.”
After Payne led the Spartans to a 16-point lead with 5:06 left in the game, Penn State stormed back to get within 73-68 but could get no further.
In what is clearly a stage of rebuilding for the program, Newbill – who looked exhausted from the effort – wouldn’t admit to being frustrated, just hungry for a win.
“I wouldn’t say frustration, we’re just trying to get a win,” the sophomore said. “We’re playing desperate right now for a win. We’re playing with a sense of urgency. Tomorrow we have to come back with a great attitude. (Tonight) we can sulk on it, but we have one this weekend against Nebraska. We can’t sulk on one game we have to keep on moving forward. It’s a marathon.”