Virginia Tech bottled up Penn State’s D.J. Newbill in the first half.
The Hokies doubled Newbill off every ball screen, giving the star guard no open lanes to the basket and forcing him to give it up. They rotated a variety of athletic and strong defenders to hound Newbill on the perimeter, sticking with him whenever he caught the ball.
The defensive game plan worked as Newbill managed just one field goal in the first 20 minutes. But Newbill broke free from the constant defensive pressure and keyed Penn State’s decisive run in the second half en route to a 61-58 victory over Virginia Tech on Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Newbill finished with 18 points to pace the Nittany Lions (7-1).
“I think in the first half, I was rushing a little bit,” Newbill said. “In the second half, we kind of more moved the ball around and then got it to me at the top, ball screen, I’m going one-on-one.”
Penn State used a 14-0 run, led by Newbill, to seize control in the second half and held on in the final minute for the win when Ahmed Hill’s last-second 3-point attempt missed. It wasn’t a pretty win, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers admitted, but the Nittany Lions found a way to win.
“Our defense won us this game,” Chambers said. “Statistically, if you look at it and don’t look at the score, you’d think how many did Virginia Tech win by.”
Chambers then looked at the box score as he read off Penn State’s statistics: 17 turnovers, four assists, 17 for 30 from the free throw line, 4 for 24 from beyond the arc.
“They’re not pretty numbers,” Chambers said. “They are not pretty numbers by any stretch of the imagination.”
Virginia Tech went 25 for 65 from the field and hit just 4 of 14 free throw attempts. Joey van Zegeren led the Hokies with 18 points and 10 rebounds but went 0 for 7 from the line.
Virginia Tech ensured it was a hard-fought battle with its plan to slow down Newbill, who entered the game as one of the nation’s leading scorers.
6-foot-3, 220-pound guard Malik Muller stuck with Newbill for stretches of the first half. Newbill couldn’t get space with his behind-the-back dribble and had to kick it out for a 3-point attempt. He didn’t score until there was 4:14 left in the first half — hitting a free throw after drawing a foul on Muller.
6-foot-5 guard Jalen Hudson gave Newbill trouble, too. And 6-foot-4 guard Devin Wilson and 6-foot-5 guard Ahmed Hill took turns on Penn State’s top scorer.
Virginia Tech big man van Zegeren and the Hokie guards were ready to hedge on every screen to contain Newbill.
He didn’t make his first field goal until Penn State’s final possession of the first half.
With Hill guarding him, Newbill split past a hedging defender and finished at the rim to give the Nittany Lions a 30-27 lead.
“Those guys did a great job of jumping all our plays,” Newbill said. “They obviously watched a lot of film. They knew every cut we was about to run and they jumped it. They was blitzing every ball screen that I got.”
Virginia Tech wasn’t as successful holding down Newbill in the second half.
He scored eight of Penn State’s final nine points during its 14-0 run. And he scored 11 of the Nittany Lions’ 14 points as the run stretched to 19-2.
He dribbled through Satchel Pierce’s help and went by Wilson for a layup that brought Penn State within 42-41.
He immediately looked to attack on the next possession and drew a foul before catching an inbounds pass and going right by Justin Bibbs for a finish.
“We couldn’t guard him there down the stretch,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said shaking his head.
Newbill went to the bench for a quick breather with more than eight minutes to play. Penn State’s Ross Travis pulled down back-to-back offensive rebounds to ensure Newbill was out for just one offensive possession.
After the second rebound, Newbill was on his feet on the sideline waving a towel with excitement.
“He’s very difficult to keep off the boards because he thinks miss every time, no matter what shot it is,” Newbill said. “A lot of guys don’t have that installed in their mind, but he does. That’s why he’s a great rebounder.”
“He makes winning plays,” Chambers said of Travis. “The tap back on the free throw line, I mean we couldn't find the bottom of the basket the last two minutes.”
Travis finished with 10 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds.
Virginia Tech pulled within three points three times in the final minute, but Penn State survived for the win.
“We find ways to win, and good teams do that,” Chambers said. “I think we’re a good team, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of how good we could be.”
Notes: Penn State goes on the road to face Marshall at 6 p.m. Saturday. … Penn State senior Kevin Montminy is a nominee for the 2015 Allstate NABC Good Works Team, it was announced Wednesday. It is a community service award with 251 candidates among the men’s and women’s nominees.