Penn State’s D.J. Newbill turned the entire Akron lineup into spectators.
Newbill received a screen from Ross Travis on Zips guard Deji Ibitayo beyond the arc and sliced past center Pat Forsythe. Newbill then fooled Akron’s Kwan Cheatham Jr. and Antino Jackson with a hesitation dribble, getting Cheatham Jr. to leave his feet and freezing Jackson before crossing over to cruise down the right side of the lane.
Akron’s Jake Kretzer took a weak swipe at the ball before watching helplessly with the rest of his teammates as Newbill finished an uncontested layup.
It was a brilliant move on another brilliant night marked by his unselfish play as much as his scoring ability.
Newbill finished with game-high 29 points on just 12 shots and handed out a game-high five assists.
“He’s a humble guy,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “I’m telling you if you didn’t look up at the scoreboard, you would have never known he had 20-some points. He does it quietly, he does it very efficient.”
Newbill is third in the country in scoring with 25.0 points per game. He’s carried the Nittany Lions offensively — ranking second in the nation with 120 field goal attempts — but he’s rarely forced shots and leads the country with 59 field goals made for an efficient 49.2 shooting percentage. Newbill has scored at least 22 points in the last five games, and he leads the Nittany Lions with 3.1 assists per game.
The 6-foot-4 senior will lead Penn State (6-1) against Virginia Tech (4-2) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The matchup with the Hokies features a connection to Newbill’s past and the winding path he took to get to Penn State.
The star guard was once set to play for first-year Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams.
Newbill signed with Williams and Marquette in high school, but the Golden Eagles later rescinded the scholarship offer to make room for Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson. Newbill then went to Southern Mississippi for his freshman season before transferring to Penn State.
“It’s something that I remember,” Newbill said. “But coming into this game, my mindset is just to try to do whatever I got to do to get the win. What happened in the past is in the past.
“I’m happy where I’m at. This is the greatest decision I’ve ever made. If it weren’t for the incident that we had, I probably wouldn’t have been here.”
Newbill has become one of the nation’s top scorers at Penn State. That ability was on display when he finished second in the Big Ten in scoring last season with 17.8 points per game.
He’s taken it to the next level through the first seven games. Newbill scored a career-high 35 points in a loss to Charlotte before making big shot after big shot to lead the Nittany Lions to four straight wins.
Against Akron, Newbill recorded crucial assists in the second half in addition to scoring 15 of his 29 points to lead the Nittany Lions to the 78-72 win.
Newbill assisted on back-to-back 3-pointers by Brandon Taylor, passing up an open shot to set up the second 3. He later drove and found Donovon Jack for a key dunk that pushed Penn State ahead by four points.
“Their main guy hurt us,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “He made every play.”
Newbill followed that performance by burning Bucknell for 28 points in an 88-80 win.
With Penn State clinging to a 62-60 lead, Newbill brought the ball down the floor and knocked down a pull-up jumper over 6-foot-2 guard J.C. Show.
“My favorite shot on the court would probably be my pull-up jumper,” Newbill said. “I rely on that a lot. For me with a smaller defender on me, it’s not really a tough shot. It’s just kind of like repetition because I work on that shot a lot.”
Newbill went to the pull-up jumper again with Bucknell hanging around, trailing by six points with more than a minute to play.
Bucknell’s 6-foot guard Ryan Frazier guarded Newbill tightly. Newbill used a behind-the-back dribble to create the space he needed and knocked down the shot.
After the game, Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen paused for a moment before giving a glowing review of Newbill, who scored 21 in the second half.
“He’s really good,” Paulsen said. “That’s what great players do. He took over the game. And it wasn’t like we weren’t guarding him and (he) has kind of change of pace and he gets that shoulder into you and then when we collapsed to help, the other guys made some big shots.”
Newbill’s ability to get his teammates involved stands out to Chambers.
He’s one of the nation’s top scorers, but he’s also selfless.
“I think he’s helping us in more ways than scoring,” Chambers said. “His leadership’s been off the charts. His toughness has been amazing and his desire and will have been, I think, a domino effect to the rest of the team where we will not wilt.”