Penn State started slowly, but finished the preseason strong with a 79-54 victory Saturday over Division II Philadelphia University and Patrick Chambers’ former head coach Herb Magee.
The Rams didn’t just stay in the game early; they led it often. They trailed just once in the first 15 minutes before succumbing to a Nittany Lion run that broke the game open just before the half.
“(We) looked lethargic,” Chambers said of his team’s slow start. “We had a light practice (Friday), a very short walk through today. I was trying to have fresh legs. Maybe the people in the stands, first-game jitters ”
After two free throws by Andre Gibbs gave Philadelphia a 28-25 lead with 3:23 remaining in the half, Penn State went on a 15-0 run, forcing three turnovers — one that lead to a beautiful alley-oop pass from Tim Frazier to Ross Travis who finished with a two-handed dunk.
“As (we) went out, I told my assistants, ‘the game’s gonna be won or lost right here,'” Magee said. “(If) we go into the half tied, the pressure goes to them.”
Instead, Penn State went into halftime with a 40-28 lead and never looked back.
Though they shot just 2 of 11 from three-point range in the first half, the Nittany Lions got hot early in the second, continuing their run.
They made four of their first five 3-pointers, including back-to-back makes by DJ Newbill and Nick Colella that stretched the lead to 60-34 with 12:33 remaining.
Colella, a senior, made the hustle play of the game minutes later when he dove from behind at a fast-breaking Ram and knocked the ball away, sacrificing his body with a 73-42 lead and only about five minutes remaining.
“That’s what Penn State basketball’s all about,” Chambers said. “That’s our foundation.”
Preseason All-Big Ten guard Frazier had team highs in both points (17) and assists (8). He also added five rebounds and only turned the ball over once.
Frazier pacing the offense isn’t new, but this time he had help. Newbill played for the first time against an opponent in front of fans at the Bryce Jordan Center because he sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“It was great. It was a great feeling to get back out there on the court playing again,” Newbill said. “I waited a whole year for this moment and I’m just thankful to be able to play the game again.”
Newbill scored 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range. Newbill also played effectively from the point, a position Chambers said he would see more of, giving Frazier breathers but also allowing the conference’s best returning scorer to operate from the wing where it’s harder for defenses to corral him.
Reserve forward Jon Graham had 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds while playing just 19 minutes. Travis started, scored nine points and contributed six rebounds and three steals, drawing praise from Chambers for his effort.
After the game, Chambers reiterated his contention that his big men would be the key to the team’s success.
His freshmen big men, Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack, saw action and made modest contributions. Taylor nabbed five rebounds in 13 minutes while Jack didn’t score but played decent help defense and managed one block.
Former Nittany Lion big man Peter Alexis had 19 points and 11 rebounds in his return with the Rams, much to the delight of his current and former coach.
“I was so happy for (Peter),” Chambers said. “He’s a great kid. I saw him before the game, I knew he was going to play well.”
Before the game, Chambers honored his former coach with a special ball commemorating Magee’s 2011 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Magee said. “Anything he does like that, which is first class, that doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Penn State opens the regular season against Saint Francis at 7 p.m. Friday at the Jordan Center.