Penn State’s Geno Thorpe dove on the floor to get the angle on Fordham’s Jon Severe.
Thorpe came up with the loose ball, sending Severe tumbling toward the sideline, and immediately turned and tossed a pass to D.J. Newbill from his back.
Newbill reached back with his right arm to make a one-handed catch near midcourt, took one dribble and soared to the rim for a right-handed dunk. Newbill’s help defense in the lane forced Ram guard Nemanja Zarkovic into an errant pass to start the sequence. His slam pushed Penn State’s run to 19-1 in the previous eight-plus minutes in the first half.
“That steal he got just kind of raised the momentum,” Newbill said. “We got down that dunk on the fast break. The crowd went crazy, the team was pumped up.”
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It was part of a more than 10-minute span in which Penn State held Fordham without a field goal en route to a 73-54 win Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions (2-0) limited the Rams (1-1) to 29.3 percent shooting and put together a balanced offensive effort. Newbill scored 18 points to lead four players in double figures as Penn State shot 47.2 percent from the field. Shep Garner went 4 for 8 from 3-point range to score 12 points, and John Johnson and Brandon Taylor each scored 11.
“I think we’ll play unselfish on defense,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “I really believe that. We’ll give ourselves up, even a hard foul here and there. We’ll give ourselves up. It’s the offensive end that truly makes a great team when you play unselfish. If we can do that, I think this team has a chance to be really good.”
Chambers quickly added his team has a lot to work on moving forward.
But Sunday, the Nittany Lions played solid defense and unselfishly on offense.
The combination was too much for the Rams, who wilted against Penn State’s defensive intensity.
“The majority of our shots were ‘B’ and ‘C’ shots,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. “They took a lot of ‘A’ shots and that’s the sign of a mature, veteran basketball team. They took shots when they were open. You don’t see guys taking shots that are out of their sweet spots offensively and shots that they can’t make.”
The Rams took contested shots and continued to come up empty in the first half.
When Newbill finished his dunk off Thorpe’s steal and assist, Penn State turned a five-point deficit into a 24-11 lead.
Fordham had missed its last 11 shots. Penn State was 6 for 11 during the same stretch, getting contributions from Taylor, Garner, Johnson and Newbill.
The Rams went more than 10 minutes without a field goal by the time Manny Suarez knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:52 left before the break. The drought saw Fordham go 0 for 12 from the field while making three free throws. Fordham freshman guard Eric Paschall, who scored 31 points in the Rams’ opener, went 0 for 6 during the stretch.
Paschall finished with seven points on 3 of 10 shooting.
“You’re hesitant because they closed out on you really hard the possession before, so all of those things for young players,” Pecora said. “It’s all part of that learning curve for them to understand those open jumpers are precious. You got to knock them down when you get them.”
Penn State made the most of its opportunities.
Taylor started the first-half run with a 3-pointer and layup. He went 5 for 6 from the field.
Johnson checked in at the first media timeout and threw a one-handed bounce pass to the wide-open Taylor for his layup. On the ensuing possession, the guard drove into the middle of the lane, absorbed contact from Fordham’s Christian Sengfelder and hit the shot falling away from the basket. He knocked down a free throw to complete the three-point play.
Johnson was aggressive in his 25 minutes of action, going 7 for 11 from the line and finishing with three assists.
“That’s what we need from him,” Newbill said. “Coming in off the bench to be a spark, just coming in being aggressive, making plays, that’s his game. He’s good at getting to the basket, creating shots for himself and others.”
Once Penn State took control, it never let Fordham make a run.
The Nittany Lions’ strong performance on both ends ensured its lead never dipped below 18 points in the second half.
“For 40 minutes,” Chambers said, “I thought we played consistent.”
Notes: Penn State returns to action Thursday at 5 p.m. against Charlotte in the Charleston Classic. The 49ers beat Elon 73-60 in their season opener Sunday. ... Penn State will take on Cornell or South Carolina in the tournament Friday. The Nittany Lions will close out the tournament Sunday against an opponent to be determined. ... The Nittany Lions next home game is Nov. 25 against Akron. ... Junior forward Donovon Jack blocked one shot to move into a tie for 10th in program history. He now has 58 blocks along with Tom Hovasse (1986-89). ... Redshirt freshman Payton Banks and freshman Isaiah Washington each made one free throw to record the first points of their careers Sunday. ... Junior college transfer Devin Foster made his debut, playing three minutes.