In the blink of an eye, Penn State saw a 10-point lead shrink to two points midway through the second half.
The Nittany Lions and their fans were still celebrating Jordan Dickerson’s highlight-reel block, Brandon Taylor’s ensuing 3-pointer and Tim Frazier’s breakaway layup when Purdue called a timeout to try to find an answer down 10 with 11:50 remaining in the game.
But less than two minutes later, with the lead cut to two points, the smiles were gone and the Bryce Jordan Center went silent as Penn State needed a timeout to regroup with less than 10 minutes to go.
“Teams are going to fight and compete no matter what if you go up 10 or down 10, you’re always going to keep competing,” Frazier said. “And they did that.”
Penn State countered with a six-point run and made the plays down the stretch to seal a 79-68 win over Purdue (13-9, 3-6) in Big Ten play Sunday. It’s the third straight conference win for the Lions (12-10, 3-6), the program’s longest streak since it won four in a row during the 2008-09 season.
D.J. Newbill scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Frazier finished with 18 points, five assists and five rebounds. Taylor added 15 for the Lions.
Penn State went 26-for-34 from the foul line, including hitting 11 of its final 12 free throws to put away the game.
“We needed to get it done,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “And they did a real good job of finishing the game as far as the free throw line’s concerned.”
The Lions came out sharp in the first half, using a 12-0 run to take the lead and building a 28-18 advantage.
Penn State took a 34-29 lead into halftime and never trailed in the second half.
A 3-pointer by Purdue’s Terone Johnson cut PSU’s lead to 46-41 with 12:52 remaining.
After a Boilermakers steal on the ensuing possession, Purdue guard Ronnie Johnson glided to the basket on a breakaway for a wide-open layup.
But Dickerson flew down the court and swatted the attempt away to protect Penn State’s lead.
“He had a huge block,” Chambers said. “The momentum was changing to their favor, and he gets a huge block and we bring it back down.”
Frazier found Taylor open at the top of the key for a 3-pointer, and the Penn State forward nailed it. After Purdue missed from long range, Frazier took off on a one-man break and finished at the rim.
The Lions led 51-41 with 11:50 to go.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Purdue’s A.J. Hammons, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, drew a foul on Dickerson and finished a layup out of the timeout. His free throw cut the PSU lead to seven.
Newbill turned it over on the inbounds, and another Hammons offensive rebound set up Errick Peck’s layup. Another turnover, this time by Graham Woodward, followed by another offensive rebound by Hammons led to Peck’s 3-pointer to pull Purdue within 51-49 with 10:06 to go.
After having five games decided by four or fewer points in Big Ten play this season, the Penn State players knew what to expect with the game on the line.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Frazier said. “A lot of losses at the end of games, a lot of wins at the end of games.
“It was up in the air.”
And the Lions grabbed momentum out of the timeout and never looked back.
Frazier hit a pair of free throws. Newbill drove strong to the basket for a layup.
Then, PSU guard John Johnson pushed the lead to 57-49 with a reverse layup. Johnson caught the ball on the left wing, crossed over toward the baseline and finished off the glass before Hammons’ block attempt.
Purdue couldn’t manage another run, cutting the deficit to four points, only to see Penn State push it back to eight with less than three minutes to play.
“We obviously struggled, especially at the end, to finish around the rim,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We had a lot of opportunities at the basket and we just couldn’t put plays together. We couldn’t put back-to-back plays together.”
Penn State did put together the runs it needed to hold off Purdue.
And they sealed it at the free-throw line.
“We’re getting the confidence to go to the line and we want to be there,” Chambers said. “Guys wanted to be there and they made their shots.”