Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers usually has five adjustments for his team to make at halftime.
With his team down by 13 to Akron after 20 minutes, he didn’t need to focus on any changes beyond his team’s lacking effort. The Zips shot 58.6 percent from the field and 41.7 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half.
And Chambers was bothered his players didn’t live up to simply playing defense, rebounding and playing hard — three aspects he’s tried to build his program around.
“We were walking around and there was no energy, no juice,” Chambers said. “It comes down to wearing the jersey, taking pride in wearing the jersey, taking pride of everything we’ve been through here the last three-and-a-half years. At some point, that’s got to come out. There’s got to be a fire in those bellies, in that locker room that’s tired of it. That’s just tired of it.
“And I think that’s what you saw in the second half.”
Penn State exploded out of the break and dominated the second half en route to a 78-72 victory over Akron at the Bryce Jordan Center on Tuesday night. The Nittany Lions held Akron to 27 points and limited the Zips to 21.2 percent shooting in the second half. The energy extended to the offensive end, where Penn State was an efficient 14 for 22 (63.6 percent) in the final 20 minutes.
D.J. Newbill paced Penn State with 29 points to go with five assists and five rebounds. Brandon Taylor finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Geno Thorpe added 10 points.
Penn State trailed 45-32 at halftime and started the second half on a 16-0 run to take the lead.
“To sum it all up in one word, he just said, ‘Play with pride,’” Newbill said of Chambers’ message. “He said we wasn’t playing with pride. They came in, they jumped us. They was just doing anything they wanted to. They was getting any shot. They was comfortable. They was just driving it up on us getting one-one-ones. They was just (isolating) us the whole first half and Coach is like, ‘Play with some pride.’”
Newbill said Chambers felt his team was “sleepwalking” in the first half.
That changed immediately in the second half. Thorpe, a tough defender, and 7-foot-1 Jordan Dickerson started out of the break for Shep Garner and Donovon Jack.
Chambers felt the change contributed to the strong run to close the gap.
Penn State shut down the Zips and finished with six blocks in the final 20 minutes.
Penn State exploded out of the break, scoring the first nine points in less than two minutes to begin the comeback.
Newbill found Ross Travis open along the baseline for a two-handed slam. Brandon Taylor found Jordan Dickerson for a finish under the basket. Geno Thorpe then finished two transition layups, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw on his second finish to pull Penn State within 45-41 with 18:07 left.
“You can’t give four layups to start the second half,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “That’ll destroy you psychologically.”
Penn State stayed hot to go ahead.
Penn State’s Brandon Taylor crouched down with his right arm still extended, holding his follow through as his 3-point attempt from the left corner made its way to the rim.
The shot dropped in to pull Penn State within one point
On the ensuing possession, Taylor let another 3-pointer fly, beginning to backpedal down the court immediately. He drilled the three to give Penn State a two-point lead — its first of the game less than six minutes into the second half.
“I think the two threes definitely gave us a lot of momentum,” Taylor said. “And then there was a lot of good plays like Ross going backdoor for the dunk. I think that in the second half we just picked up our offensive rotations and we played well as a team.”
From there, it was a back-and-forth battle.
Akron came back to tie it 48-48 and went ahead 52-48. The Nittany Lions pulled even 52-52 on four free throws.
John Johnson’s breakaway layup off an Akron turnover gave Penn State a 56-54 lead. The Nittany Lions held off the Zips from there.
Newbill pulled up and swished a 3-pointer over Akron’s Antino Jackson at the top of the key.
Penn State led 63-56.
When Akron closed the gap to 64-62, Penn State answered with a six-point run. When the Zips pulled within 74-72 with 16 seconds left, the Nittany Lions closed the game with two free throws and a layup.
It completed a win that started with Chambers calling for a timeout with his team down 8-0 less than three minutes into the game.
“It really came down to pride and it really came down to playing hard, and it really came down to having faith in one another in trying to get it done. Win or lose tonight, I was more about we better finish this 20 minutes off like a Penn State basketball team.