Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said earlier this week he doesn’t know if his team will ever blow out an opponent.
He also expected his team’s matchup with Duquesne on Wednesday night to come down to the final four minutes. Though the Nittany Lions led by as many as 10 points in the second half, they found themselves in another tight contest just as their coach predicted. Penn State survived for a 64-62 win over the Dukes at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Nittany Lions (9-1) pushed their winning streak to seven games. Penn State has matched the best start since 2000-01.
Geno Thorpe scored a career-high 19 points to pace Penn State, while Shep Garner finished with 13. D.J. Newbill and Donovon Jack each had 11.
Penn State went 20 for 28 from the foul line and hit 15 of 18 attempts in the second half. Thorpe and Jack combined to go 6 for 6 from the line in the 2:30 to hold off Duquesne.
“Free throws won us the game tonight,” Chambers said. “They played great defense.”
Duquesne had a chance to win the game on the final possession, but Micah Mason’s 3-point attempt challenged by Ross Travis in the closing seconds fell well short of the rim.
“We gave ourselves the chance to win the game,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “We ran a play at the end and really they did a good job switching up on it and we didn’t attack the basket at that point.”
Ferry also felt free throws were the difference. Penn State shot just 34.6 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes. Duquesne pulled within one point three different times, but the Dukes never got any closer.
“I thought it was a really hard-fought game by both teams,” Ferry said. “I thought it got ugly. I thought it turned into a rock fight for a little while.”
Penn State held off the Dukes after opening the second half on a 11-2 run to build a 40-30 lead.
Garner knocked down a 3-pointer and Newbill found Jordan Dickerson for an alley oop during the run.
Newbill went 1 for 8 from the field in the first half and scored just two points. He got his first shot of the second half to go down, a 3-pointer that dropped in to push the Nittany Lions ahead by eight points and immediately led to a timeout by Duquesne.
Newbill finished 5 for 17 from the field and 1 for 6 from beyond the arc.
But Thorpe helped pick up the scoring load with Garner and Jack.
After closing the second half strong — scoring five straight points during a stretch — Thorpe started the second half.
“Coach just decided to start me the second half and he told me to be aggressive so that’s what I did,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe hit two free throws to give Penn State a 40-30 lead — the largest of the game to that point with 15:59 left. Thorpe attacked the lane and finished on the ensuing possession to keep the Nittany Lions’ lead at 10.
Thorpe went 11 for 14 from the line.
Duquesne closed the gap to six with just more than 12 minutes to play.
A floater by Stevens later cut the Penn State lead to four points with 11:22 to play.
More than three minutes later, Duquesne’s Darius Lewis pulled down an offensive rebound, went up for a layup and hit the free throw to make it 52-51.
It remained close, but Penn State held on to a slim advantage for another close win.
“That’s what you expect when you play a team from Pittsburgh,” Chambers said. “It’s exactly what I thought it was going to be.”
Newbill sliced through the Duquesne defense and finished a reverse layup before hitting a jumper on the next possession. Both plays kept PSU ahead by three.
Powell had a chance to tie with 3:04 left, but he made just 1 of 2 free throws. Penn State remained ahead 58-57.
Thorpe knocked down two free throws about 30 seconds later to extend the lead to three points. And the Nittany Lions maintained control from there as Jack hit four free throws to protect the lead.