In this season of giving, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said his team now has everything it needs.
Guard John Johnson made his presence felt in his first game for Penn State as the Nittany Lions rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to turn away pesky Mount St. Mary’s 92-82 Sunday in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Johnson, who transferred from Pittsburgh in December 2012, was eligible to play for the first time against the Mountaineers. He scored 15 of his team-high 20 points in the second half.
Jordan Dickerson, a 7-footer who transferred from Southern Methodist in June, also made his debut with the Nittany Lions. Penn State learned on Friday that the NCAA granted a waiver request for Dickerson to be able to play immediately, beginning Sunday.
“It just felt good to be out on the court after sitting out for a year and a half,” Johnson said. “My teammates were looking for me and found open shots for me.”
Chambers said the only thing that surprised him about Johnson’s performance was his point total.
“Not 20, but I expected double figures,” he said. “He’s been doing it for a year now. I expected a good output.”
Mount St. Mary’s coach Jamion Christian admitted to experiencing opposite feelings about Johnson’s eligibility.
“I wasn’t really happy when I found out he was playing, because we had a chance to see him at Pitt last year,” he said.
“Because of that we were doing a lot of game-planning for him a year ago, so we knew how talented he was. He’s going to be a great player here at Penn State.”
Four other Nittany Lions (9-4) scored in double figures: D.J. Newbill scored 18, Tim Frazier 15, Ross Travis 14 and Brandon Taylor 10.
For Mount St. Mary’s (3-8), Julian Norfleet led the way with 22 points. Sam Prescott added 18 points, Rashad Whack 16 and Byron Ashe 14.
“Honestly, I’m really encouraged by how my team played today,” Christian said. “I thought our toughness and our competitiveness today was at a high level.”
Mount St. Mary’s had built a nine-point halftime lead, much of it on the strength of 9-of-16 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc. The Mountaineers were only able to hit three in the second half.
“I’m proud of my group, though,” Chambers said, “because (they hit) 12 threes and we were still able to come out on top by 10. That’s pretty good.”
Chambers said the halftime deficit resulted from a combination of things.
First, he said, sometimes teams just get hot from beyond the arc. Second, he said his team was a bit “disjointed” from trying to incorporate Johnson and Dickerson into its rotations.
Penn State opened the second half with a 6-0 run to cut the Mountaineer lead to 46-43, but Mount St. Mary’s wasn’t ready to cede the lead without a fight.
Johnson hit a bucket with 12:14 left to tie the game at 65-65, and for the next 6 minutes it was a back-and-forth affair.
Penn State took the lead with 5:55 left on two free throws by Newbill. Frazier pushed the lead to four on a driving layup.
Mount St. Mary’s, however, had one push left. Taylor Danaher threw down a dunk on an inbounds play. On the next possession, Norfleet converted a driving layup to tie the game at 80-80.
Penn State, though, took the lead for the good as Frazier hit a bucket, Travis made a bucket and then grabbed a rebound and made a stick-back and Geno Thorpe took a pass off a steal and made a fast-break layup.
That pushed the Nittany Lion lead to 88-80 and the teams traded foul shots for the final minute of the game.
Chambers was especially pleased that his Nittany Lions were able to close out the win considering they held a 20-point lead on Princeton in its last game, on Dec. 14, and lost in overtime.
“After Princeton, we wanted to get the bad taste out of our mouth,” he said. “We were stewing for a solid week.”
Penn State finished non-conference play with a 9-4 mark, its best non-conference record since the 2008-09 season. The Nittany Lions start Big Ten play at 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve when they entertain No. 5 Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center.