Penn State’s Tim Frazier had made 17 consecutive free throws entering Friday’s play, but missed his first three against St. John’s.
So what did he do?
He made 17 straight against the Red Storm, including 15 straight in the second half and overtime, as the Nittany Lions rebounded from blowing a 15-point lead to net an 89-82 triumph in the Barclays Center Classic.
Led by Frazier’s 29 points and D.J. Newbill’s 25, Penn State (6-1) advanced to face Mississippi in the title game of the tournament at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Rebels (5-0) thumped Georgia Tech 73-53 in the other semifinal.
“We believe we're headed in the right direction and we can accomplish what we want to,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said after his team’s fifth straight win. “It’s obviously a great win for our program.”
Paced by Newbill’s outstanding start, the Nittany Lions seemingly had control of a wild game against the Red Storm (4-2). Allen Roberts’ 3-pointer off an assist from Frazier with 10:52 remaining gave Penn State a commanding 62-47 lead.
But the game changed just 14 seconds later when Frazier picked up his fourth foul. With its leader on the bench, the Nittany Lion offense began to sputter.
St. John’s began cutting into the Penn State lead, surprisingly from long distance. The Red Storm, which entered the contest making just 17 of 78 3-point attempts, nailed 11-for-20 on Friday. Phil Greene,
D’Angelo Harris and Max Hooper each had 3-pointers as St. John’s rallied. Greene’s jump shot with 3:12 remaining tied the score at 67-67 with 3:12 left in regulation.
Frazier, who entered the game for good with 4:54 left in regulation, gave the Nittany Lions the lead with two free throws and Donovon Jack’s follow shot after Ross Travis kept alive a miss Penn State up 71-67.
The four-point margin barely lasted 20 seconds. Harrison not only launched and made a long 3-pointer, he was fouled on the shot by Brandon Taylor. Harrison made the free throw to tie the score with 1:05 left.
Jack made one of two free throws to give Penn State the lead, but Harrison’s basket put the Red Storm back in front at 73-72 with 46 seconds left. It was their first lead since 20-19.
A poor Penn State possession led to a hurried shot from Frazier that was blocked and KaJarr Sampson, who grabbed the rebound. Sampson was fouled and made one of two to give St. John’s a 74-72 lead with 10 seconds left.
Frazier then dribbled up the floor, pump-faked and drew a foul while shooting a 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds left. He calmly drilled all three free throws to put Penn State back into the lead at 75-74.
Harrison then drove the floor and was fouled by Travis with 2.5 seconds left. With a chance to give St. John’s the win, Harrison missed the first free throw, but made the second to send the game into overtime.
“We’d love to have the free throw back with two seconds to go,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said.
While Penn State appeared to be the more tired team heading into the extra period, the Nittany Lions played smarter. St. John’s threw up several wild shots in the five-minute extra period.
Frazier’s two free throws with 2:50 left gave Penn State the lead for good at 79-77. Taylor followed with a jumper from the foul line, one of only four baskets the Nittany Lions made over the final 15:52 of playing time.
St. John’s got to within 81-80 on Greene’s 3-pointer, but Frazier nailed eight straight free throws over the final 1:06 to close out the win.
“We played the whole 45 minutes,” said Frazier, who had six of Penn State’s 10 assists. “We come out and play hard for 40 minutes. It shows.”
While relatively silent down the stretch, Newbill was the best player on the floor in the first 30 minutes.
He nailed 7 of 8 shots and had 17 points as Penn State built a 42-35 halftime lead. Newbill tired, but played all 45 minutes of the contest. He also had eight rebounds and three steals.
Penn State shot 50 percent (14 of 28) from the floor in the first half, but cooled to just 32 percent (11 for 34) over the final 25 minutes. Taylor, who played 40 minutes, and Travis, who fouled out, each had 10 points and led the Nittany Lions with nine rebounds apiece.
Penn State committed just four turnovers in the contest, including just one over the final 25 minutes.
The game feature 13 lead changes and eight ties.
Harrison paced the Red Storm with 20 points, but went just 7 of 19 from the floor. Hooper, who entered the contest 1 for 8 from 3-point range, made 5 of 8 from long distance and had 15 points, while Greene added 14. Led by Chris Obekpa’s seven blocks, the Red Storm rejected 11 Penn State shots. Obekpa also had a game-high 13 rebounds.
“It was an exhilarating game,” Lavin said. “I was disappointing to lose in overtime, but a number of positive takeaways, elements that we can learn from.”
Notes: Saturday’s title game will be televised by the NBC Sports Network. … Penn State fell 72-70 in its last meeting against Mississippi in 2011 at the Bryce Jordan Center. … Penn State is averaging just 8.7 turnovers per game. … The Nittany Lions improved to 1-1 all-time against St. John’s and 13-21 against Big East teams. … St. John’s has blocked 10 or more shots in its last four games. … St. John’s had 50 rebounds, its most since 2008.