As Bucknell made another run, refusing once again to go quietly against Penn State, a packed Sojka Pavilion started to come to life.
Penn State’s D.J. Newbill tried to find an angle to the rim with Penn State’s lead trimmed to five points. But his lane was cut off and he retreated to the perimeter, where he lost his handle on the ball out of bounds.
The home crowd cheered the turnover, which gave Bucknell a chance to pull within one possession just two minutes after the Nittany Lions led by nine. Nineteen seconds later, the crowd was on its feet after sharpshooter Chris Hass buried a 3-pointer to force a Penn State timeout.
The Nittany Lions were clinging to a two-point lead with more than eight minutes remaining. This was why men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers agreed to make the trip to Lewisburg as he tries to prepare his team for Big Ten play.
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“It was a packed house, it was a great environment,” Chambers said. “The way things were going, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to put us in the most difficult situation and early. We’re not even to December yet and we’re getting tested already.”
Bucknell tied the game with just more than six minutes to play, but Penn State pulled away down the stretch for an 88-80 win in front of 4,257. The Nittany Lions (6-1) never trailed in 40 minutes, but the Bison (2-5) made a handful of runs to make for a tight contest. Penn State always had an answer and came up with the defensive stops they needed down the stretch.
“We said let’s make Penn State play a great game to come in here and win and I thought they played great,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “I thought Penn State had to hit some tough shots. When you get 30 baskets and only six of them have assists with them, that tells you that a great player went and made plays.”
Paulsen said Newbill, who scored a game-high 28 points, took over the game. But Newbill also had help as Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor and Geno Thorpe each scored in double figures.
Travis started hot to help Penn State to an early lead.
He nailed back-to-back jumpers on the right wing, including his first 3-pointer of the season, to push the Nittany Lions ahead 12-5. Travis, who scored 14 points, finished the first half 5 for 5 from the field and 2 for 2 from 3-point range and Penn State led 39-33 at the break.
Bucknell stuck with Penn State in the second half behind freshman center Nana Foulland. Foulland scored 13 of the Bison’s first 15 points out of the break. He went baseline and dunked over Penn State’s Donovon Jack on Bucknell’s first possession.
Bucknell continued to look to Foulland from there, and the 6-foot-9 center sent Jack and Jordan Dickerson to the bench with three fouls each. Penn State went small, with the 6-foot-6 Taylor guarding him for much of his spurt that finished with two free throws to bring Bucknell within 51-48.
Penn State responded with a 7-0 run to expand its lead to 10 points.
“I think because we’ve been in so many close games that we’re ready for it and we showed a lot of composure and poise,” Chambers said of answering each of Bucknell’s comebacks.
Hass, who went scoreless in the first half, caught fire to set up the chance to tie the game with more than six minutes to go.
He drove baseline and finished to cut Penn State’s lead to seven. A 3-point play by the 6-foot-5 guard followed. Then he came off a screen and knocked down a 3-pointer over Thorpe, forcing a Penn State timeout and bringing the crowd to its feet.
The Nittany Lions lead was down to 62-60 with 8:25 to play.
Newbill hit a pull-up jumper on Penn State’s ensuing possession and connected on a floater over Foulland to make it 66-61.
Hass then knocked down another 3-pointer.
“Those guys can shoot on the road,” Newbill said. “This is their home, they come here every day and shoot. We knew they was going to hit crazy shots, that’s what they did. We had to just stay poised, not get too high, not get too low, just kind of try to stay consistent and make their shots as tough as possible.”
Bucknell tied it 66-66 on two free throws by Cory Starkey with 6:19 left. But the tie lasted just 15 seconds as Taylor immediately hit a hook shot for Penn State. Taylor finished with 12 points.
Thorpe then locked down Hass. The guard didn’t score again until hitting a contested 3-pointer over Penn State’s best on-ball defender with more than one minute to play.
“We were just trying to faceguard him, trying to slow him down and it was successful,” said Thorpe, who also scored 12 points.
After Hass hit his final three, the Nittany Lions were still in control — up by five and able to ice the game at the free-throw line.
“I think they did a great job of really blanketing Chris down the stretch,” Paulsen said. “We’re a work in progress. We have to continue to evolve how we continue to free Chris for shots when he’s hot without becoming stand-and-watch.”
Penn State, meanwhile, came away with a win marked by significant contributions surrounding Newbill.
And the Nittany Lions didn’t wilt under the pressure of any Bucknell run.
Said Chambers: “We’re growing up quick, this team.”
Notes: Penn State hosts Virginia Tech at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. … The Nittany Lions wore pink and black uniforms Friday, and will do so against the Hokies on Wednesday, as the school’s original colors in 1887. ... Bucknell wore throwback uniforms from the 1970s. ... Penn State shot a season-high 55.6 percent from the field against Bucknell. … The Nittany Lions also connected on 20 of 26 free throws (76.9 percent), another season-high.