With just under 14 minutes remaining in the game and Army on an 8-2 run that cut Penn State’s lead to just five, D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis connected for the game’s most exciting play.
Newbill broke free of the Black Knights’ full-court pressure and entered the open floor with Travis on his left and only Ella Ellis back to protect Army’s basket.
Newbill lofted the ball high above the rim for Travis who elevated over Ellis, caught the ball with two hands and finished with a thunderous dunk and an Ellis foul.
“I forgot how we got on the fast break but I just remember seeing a two-on-one opportunity and Ross jumps out of the building,” Newbill said. “So I just threw it up there and I had faith that he would get it.”
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It wasn’t the play that cemented Penn State’s 78-70 win over Army, but it foretold of the team effort the Nittany Lions would use to withstand the Black Knights’ pressure on Military Appreciation Night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
For the first time this season, Penn State (5-4) had four players reach double figures in scoring. The Nittany Lions shot a season-best 50 percent from the field. The offensive explosion even sent fans home with free Big Macs for breaching the 70-point mark.
Newbill scored a team-high 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and added five assists. Travis finished with his second career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Jermaine Marshall filled the stat sheet with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Brandon Taylor scored 14 points and had 4 rebounds.
Ella Ellis led Army (4-4) with 23 points but fouled out with 6:42 left in the game courtesy of a Nick Colella charge. Kyle Toth scored 13 points and added five rebounds for the Black Knights. Army was held to just 38.9 percent shooting for the game.
“Honestly, if you told me we were going to score 78 points I’d say you were crazy,” said head coach Patrick Chambers. “We’re a 60s team. It was great to see shots fall … it’s better to have four than two … it’s better to have everybody sharing the wealth.”
Chambers expressed concerned in previous games that the duo of Newbill and Marshall wasn’t getting enough help on the offensive end.
Defensively, Penn State stymied the Black Knights early, even forcing a 24-second violation on the game’s first possession.
Penn State’s dominance continued in the first half as they outworked what looked like a flat Army squad. The Nittany Lions won key first-half battles: points in the paint 18-2 and second chance points 11-0.
The lead ballooned to 15 after Taylor and Marshall made consecutive baskets to push it to 33-18 with 4:20 remaining in the half.
However, Army responded to its 40-28 halftime deficit by opening the second half with a 7-1 run that was only stopped after Colella hit one of his three 3-pointers.
“The final 20 minutes was much more indicative of what our institution is about and what our program is about,” said Army head coach Zach Spiker. “The credit today goes to Penn State and it goes to their players and their coaches.”
It wasn’t Travis’ dunk over Ellis that propelled Penn State to victory; it was another run-stopping 3-pointer from Colella.
After Travis’ dunk halted Army’s 8-2 run, the Black Knights remained undaunted, orchestrating another 7-2 run and pulling within 52-50 after a Kyle Wilson layup with 12 minutes remaining.
Patrick Chambers called a 30-second timeout with his team’s once comfortable lead now on the brink. But another Colella three on the ensuing possession pushed the lead back to five and seemed to give Penn State life.
“At that point it’s about attitude,” Chambers said. “We just took a big punch and we have to punch back … it was a big shot for that kid at a crucial point in the game.”
Colella has struggled to make open shots all season. He tied a career high with three 3-pointers and finished with nine points and four rebounds.
His third three put the game out of reach for good, extending the lead back to 13 (73-60) with 3:32 remaining.
The Penn State football team and head coach Bill O’Brien were honored at halftime of the game.