Penn State appeared to be on its way to a blowout victory.
The Nittany Lions led Drexel by 20 with seven minutes to play after scoring at least a point on 10 of its previous 11 possessions. The Dragons were in that deep hole after managing just three points during the same seven-minute stretch.
But Drexel, which had missed six straight 3-point attempts and was 4 for 19 from deep, found its stroke to start a 15-0 run.
The Dragons knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers and closed the gap to five with the help of five Penn State turnovers.
Drexel never got any closer in the final four minutes as Penn State closed out a 73-68 victory Saturday at the PPL Center.
“I thought we played 25-28 minutes of Penn State basketball,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “I thought Drexel did a really good job, give them a lot of credit. They went after us and forced some turnovers there in the last 6-7 minutes. I felt like we cleaned that up over the last couple months, meaning passes, being solid with the ball, getting the ball up the floor, and we didn’t do it.”
The Nittany Lions (11-1) went 7 for 8 from the foul line in the last minute to seal their ninth straight win. D.J. Newbill scored a game-high 20 points, and Brandon Taylor added 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
Drexel’s Tavon Allen paced four players in double figures with 15 points. Drexel’s Damion Lee, who came into the game averaging 20.7 points, finished with 13 points on 3 for 15 shooting. Lee managed just four points in the first half on four free throws. Sammy Mojica scored 14, and Mohamed Bah had 10 for Drexel (2-8).
Penn State took its largest lead of the game at 58-38 on a Newbill jumper with 7:23 to play.
Allen then drilled consecutive 3-pointers for Drexel, and Freddie Wilson connected from deep to cut the deficit to 11.
Two possessions later, Drexel’s Mojica picked off a pass by Geno Thorpe and finished a breakaway layup. A John Johnson turnover led to a pair of free throws by Allen, and another Johnson turnover was followed by Bah’s layup to cap the 15-0 run.
“They made some NBA 3s, they hit some big shots to get back into the game,” Chambers said. “Again, they have a lot of fight, which doesn’t surprise me, they’re a lot like their head coach. Our defense is coming together. We had some lapses and they exposed those lapses, but for the most part, there’s a lot of positives I can take from the defensive effort.”
Penn State led 58-53 with 4:13 to play.
The Nittany Lions took a timeout to regroup, and Drexel cooled off from beyond the arc.
Newbill hit two free throws, and Donovon Jack grabbed offensive rebounds and scored four points on consecutive possessions to help Penn State move ahead by nine.
The Nittany Lions maintained control and put the game away at the free-throw line.
Penn State built a 36-28 halftime lead behind a hot start from beyond the arc.
Taylor led the way, going 4 for 6 from deep and scoring all 14 of his points in the first half. The Nittany Lions hit 7 of 13 3-point attempts in the opening 20 minutes.
“Threes are daggers in college,” Newbill said. “We started out hot with some big (shots) in the second half. They’re daggers, that’s why we try to do our best to defend the 3.”
Taylor swished a 3-pointer from the wing to get Penn State on the board nearly three minutes into the game. On the next possession, Taylor set a screen for Newbill, who drilled another 3.
Redshirt freshman Payton Banks, who scored a career-high seven points, caught the ball beyond the arc and sized up a shot over Rodney Williams.
He knocked it down to push the Nittany Lions ahead by nine early.
Taylor closed out the half with a 3-pointer when Newbill found him with a cross-court pass out of a trap.
“That’s something I have been working on, just getting into the gym shooting,” Taylor said of his first-half performance. “I started off a little slow and just working in the gym before practice and after practice. I think that is why I had that hot start.”