Penn State faced a familiar situation Saturday against Marshall.
The Nittany Lions were clinging to a one-point lead going into the final minute in what became another down-to-the-wire game early. And like they have in their previous tight matchups in the first month of the season, the Nittany Lions held on for the victory, beating the Thundering Herd 73-69 at the Cam Henderson Center. It was Penn State’s sixth straight win — with all six victories coming by fewer than 10 points.
Penn State is off to its best start since opening the 2000-01 season 9-1.
D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor and John Johnson each scored 17 points to pace Penn State (8-1). Taylor and Johnson both had 10 points in the first half.
The Nittany Lions opened up a double-digit lead early in the second half, but they couldn’t put the game out of reach.
“We are learning a lot, but where I stand right now, it’s time to take the next step with this group,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “And I’m not sure what that means but we will figure it out Monday and Tuesday at practice.”
Marshall has lost five straight games.
“I just have to be patient and keep working every day,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “I don’t think mentally we have matured enough with our system that we pull these out.”
The Thundering Herd (3-5) pulled within four points with less than six minutes left, but Penn State responded to go ahead by 11 with four minutes remaining.
In the next three minutes, Marshall sliced that lead to 66-65 to set the stage for another close finish.
Penn State took a timeout with 1:01 to go.
The Nittany Lions put the ball in Newbill’s hands, and the team’s leading scorer left a pull-up jumper short. Donovon Jack came through with a tip-in to push the Nittany Lions ahead by three. At the other end, Jack secured a defensive rebound and was fouled with 38.4 seconds left. The 6-foot-9 forward went to the line and sank two free throws.
Penn State suddenly had a five-point cushion, back in control and on its way to a win.
The Thundering Herd kept the pressure on the Nittany Lions, pulling within two on Aleksa Nikolic’s uncontested layup. But Newbill sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 3.7 seconds left.
Penn State was on the verge of pulling away from the Marshall throughout the final 20 minutes.
The Nittany Lions led by 13 after a free throw by Jordan Dickerson less than three minutes into the second half. But Penn State couldn’t put together a decisive run as its lead hovered between six and 12 points going into the final eight minutes.
Penn State had opportunities to build on its lead.
Johnson provided a lift offensively Saturday, scoring 10 points to help Penn State take a 31-24 halftime lead. He knocked down four straight free throws to extend PSU’s lead to 10 more than nine minutes into the second half.
Johnson stayed aggressive when Marshall pulled within 54-49.
He drove down the right side of the lane and drew a foul, but he missed both free throws. Two possessions later, with Penn State up by seven, Johnson got to the basket and drew another foul as he was knocked to the floor by Marshall’s Ryan Taylor.
Again, Johnson missed both free throws.
The missed opportunities allowed the Thundering Herd to cut Penn State’s lead to 56-52 with 5:39 remaining.
Taylor put an end to that comeback with a 3-pointer from the top of the key on the ensuing possession.
But Marshall made one more run.
In a two-minute span, Penn State’s lead shrunk from nine points to three points.
Penn State turned it over on a shot-clock violation, then Marshall’s Tamron Manning drilled a 3-pointer. Taylor missed a shot off the backboard, turning into a transition dunk by Nikolic.
Marshall was within three with less than two minutes.
After trading free throws, Newbill lost the ball out of bounds and Marshall’s Jay Johnson drove and drew a foul on Taylor. Johnson hit both free throws and the Thundering Herd trailed 66-65.
Penn State finished with 14 turnovers, while Marshall had 11.
“It’s a weakness of ours as we turned it over 14 times,” Chambers said. “The one stretch we turned it over three times really got them back in the game.”
Notes: Penn State hosts Duquesne at 9 p.m. Wednesday. ... For Penn State on Saturday, John Johnson went 4 for 7 from the field and 7 for 12 from the free throw line. Taylor finished 7 for 16 from the field and 3 for 9 from beyond the arc. ... Newbill was 5 for 11 from the field and 7 for 9 from the line. ... Jay Johnson led Marshall with 19 points.