The moment for Tim Frazier was rapidly approaching. It’s the juncture he had anticipated for nearly a year, but minutes before Frazier admitted he was a little too anxious.
The point guard who hadn’t played in an actual game in nearly a year needed to be calmed down. He got a few words of encouragement from teammate and close friend D.J. Newbill, and coach Patrick Chambers noted he and Frazier had “a nice moment” shortly before tipoff of Penn State’s season-opening win against Wagner.
“This time, to see the fans, to step on the court, to really put a jersey on and have it really count, oh man, ask (D.J. Newbill), I was like ‘Man, I got too many jitters right now,’” Frazier said. “Then in warm-ups, I had too many jitters. Keep breathing and I’m breathing and breathing, because I was out so long and it meant so much to step back on the court with these guys. It was an amazing moment and I’ll never forget this day.”
The talks worked as Frazier posted 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes as the Nittany Lions topped Wagner 74-62 in Frazier’s first official game since rupturing his left Achilles tendon last November. The 6-foot-1 redshirt senior was 6 for 16 from the field , scored 19 of his points in the second half, and netted some layups and floaters which reminded the crowd of 4,752 why he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection two seasons ago.
“He’s worked so hard to get to this point, and you can understand that he was jacked up in the first 20 minutes,” said Chambers, who has won all three of his season openers at Penn State. “I think he settled things down in the second (half).”
Newbill, who relinquished his point guard duties with Frazier back, also had a double-double, as he scored 18 points on 5 of 11 shooting to go with a team-high 11 boards.
The jitters likely extended beyond Frazier as both teams opened their regular seasons with subpar shooting.
Penn State shot 35.8 percent, while Wagner hit just 29.9 percent of its shots, including a 2 for 23 performance from beyond the 3-point arc. The Nittany Lions missed their first six field goals, and the first seven after halftime, and Chambers said “the first game is always the toughest, I don’t care who you play.”
With the cold start out of the locker room, Penn State’s 12-point halftime lead was down to a one-possession advantage just more than three minutes into the half. The team never allowed the game to get closer than three the rest of the way however, and held a comfortable lead for the rest of the half.
“They had a couple good spurts, but I never felt like it was time to really get concerned,” Chambers said. “…We answered the bell every time they made their little runs, which was good to see. It showed us where we are right now.”
Guard Kenneth Ortiz paced Wagner (0-1), a team that was the preseason media pick to win the Northeast Conference, with 20 points. However, the Seahawks missed all 13 3-pointers they took in the first half, much to the chagrin of 29-year-old head coach Bashir Mason.
“I figured eventually the ball was going to start to fall, we just had to continue to defend,” Mason said. “Although we weren’t making shots, it was still a 10-11 point game. It never felt like we were really out of it because we were doing such a good job defensively.”
All of the missed shots resulted in plenty of rebounding opportunities, and Penn State won the battle on the glass 47-44. A lot of long rebounds allowed the Lions’ backcourt combo of Frazier and Newbill to secure 21 missed shots, and sophomore Brandon Taylor and Miami (Ohio) transfer Allen Roberts both grabbed seven rebounds.
“We’re taught to gang rebound, all five guys rebound,” Newbill said. “I think a few balls bounced our way. We were just trying to keep them off the boards. That was part of our game plan, to rebound hard, because they had some big, athletic dudes. We were just trying to help our bigs.”
Wagner was also in foul trouble all game. Center Naofall Folahan and Orlando Parker both fouled out in a combined 31 minutes and the team committed 29 total fouls, which equaled 43 trips to the charity stripe for the Nittany Lions.
A lot of the foul line trips came later in the game, as Frazier and Newbill attacked the rim more against a full-court press. Frazier ended 12 of 17 from the line, making his last eight attempts, while Newbill was 6 for 9.
“That last five minutes felt like it took two hours, and I’m the coach,” Chambers said. “But we take advantage of their speed. I wanted to get Tim and D.J. to the line, and those were the plays we were calling to get them to the foul line.”