Penn State turned up its defensive intensity late in the first half.
The Nittany Lions closed out on George Washington’s shooters and closed off the Colonials’ driving lanes. Each move in the post or shot in the paint was challenged by Penn State’s 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson.
On one possession, George Washington guard Joe McDonald had a shot deflected by Ross Travis with the shot clock winding down. On another, Dickerson sprinted up the court to reject a transition layup by Colonial forward Yuta Watanabe.
Penn State held George Washington scoreless for five-plus minutes and seized control heading into the break. The Nittany Lions maintained that defensive effort during the second half of its 64-51 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday. Penn State (10-1) extended its winning streak to eight games and is off to its best start since 1995-96.
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Penn State limited the Colonials (6-3) to 23 points on 29.2 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes to secure its most decisive win since beating Fordham by 19 points on Nov. 16. Dickerson anchored the defense with a career-high six blocks, and the Nittany Lions recorded 11 blocks as a team. George Washington finished 0 for 8 from beyond the arc.
D.J. Newbill scored a game-high 20 points, and Brandon Taylor had 17 points to lead Penn State offensively.
But Penn State’s leading scorer credited the defense for the win.
“We feed off our defense,” Newbill said. “We feed off getting stops. A lot of teams, they feed off making 3s or their offense, but us, we feed off getting stops and that’s what we work on a lot.”
George Washington started hot, hitting 7 of its first 11 shots, before Penn State buckled down. The Colonials went 4 for 18 from the field in the final 12 minutes of the first half.
Penn State fed off its defense during a 10-2 run to build a six-point halftime lead.
George Washington missed three jumpers on consecutive possessions and saw a two-point lead turn into a six-point deficit. Penn State ensured the Colonials’ drought continued with a defensive stop.
McDonald caught the ball out top and looked to find an opening against Penn State’s Geno Thorpe. Thorpe harassed McDonald, giving him no room as the shot clock ticked down, and Travis provided help and knocked his desperate shot attempt away.
“A couple guys were trying to force the issue,” George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said. “We’re not a very good one-on-one team. We’re definitely not a good one-on-three team.”
More than a minute later, George Washington had what appeared to be a wide-open transition opportunity to finally score.
But Dickerson hustled back on defense and flew in from behind Watanabe for the block. Four seconds later, Newbill found Thorpe for a left-handed layup to push Penn State ahead by eight.
“That’s the way we need to play,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “But it starts on the defensive end. Our defense was really solid today.”
Penn State took a 34-28 lead into halftime and put away the Colonials early in the second half.
George Washington pulled within three points with more than 14 minutes to play, but it was never a one-possession game again after a Taylor 3-pointer pushed the lead back to six.
Taylor knocked down another 3 to push the lead to nine and his jumper with 9:06 left gave Penn State a 52-41 lead — its largest of the game to that point.
Dickerson blocked another shot on the ensuing possession and later tipped a 3-point attempt by Griffin for his final rejection of the day.
“He was definitely a force today,” Chambers said.
Penn State’s defense and timely offensive rebounds sealed the win.
After the Nittany Lions went up by 11 with more than nine minutes to play, they grabbed four offensive rebounds in five possessions. Often, they reset the offense and burned time off the clock while maintaining a comfortable lead.
“It wasn’t a total 40-minute game, but it was close,” Chambers said. “Time and score, and we played really smart. We got rebounds, we threw it back out, which is smart basketball — smart basketball because the clock’s your friend at that time.”
The offensive rebounds killed any chance George Washington had at a comeback.
“It’s devastating,” Lonergan said. “We’re playing 1-3-1, I thought we got them to take some bad shots. Some of them are long rebounds, but the stat sheet kind of shows that they had a lot of offensive rebounds and they were just killers because we ended up playing defense too long.”
Notes: Penn State takes on Drexel at the PPL Center in Allentown at 2 p.m. on Saturday. ... Penn State’s eight-game win streak is its longest since the 1995-96 season. The 1995-96 team started 13-0 and finished 21-7. ... Newbill moved to 12th in program history with 1,349 points. He is 20 points away from tying Titus Ivory (1997-2001) for 11th all-time. ... Travis grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds Sunday. ... Shep Garner finished with 10 points, scoring in double figures for the eighth time this season.