As Dartmouth’s Gabas Maldunas stumbled on the perimeter, Penn State’s D.J. Newbill attacked an open lane to the rim with the final seconds of the half ticking away.
Big Green 6-foot-1 guard Cameron Smith slid over late, the last line of defense, with both arms raised as Newbill took flight. The Nittany Lion guard soared over Smith, right arm fully extended for an emphatic dunk to put an exclamation point on a dominant first half.
The Nittany Lions led by 25 points at the break and rolled to a 69-49 victory Monday at the Bryce Jordan Center, extending their win streak to 10 games and setting the program record for nonconference wins in a season.
“We’re extremely confident,” Newbill said. “We feel like if we stick to Penn State basketball and defending and rebounding, that we can play with any team in the country. Our confidence level is at an all-time high right now, and we want to keep it going.”
Newbill scored a game-high 17 points and paced four Penn State players in double figures. Geno Thorpe finished with 12 points, while Brandon Taylor and John Johnson each had 10.
Penn State (12-1) picked up its most decisive win of the season to finish a nonconference run defined by close calls. The win streak started Nov. 21 with a one-point win over Cornell on a game-winning layup at the buzzer by Newbill and featured seven games decided by six or fewer points.
The Nittany Lions return to action in their Big Ten opener at No. 6 Wisconsin on Dec. 31.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said his team will be seen differently heading into conference play with one loss. The Nittany Lions had at least four losses during its nonconference schedule in each of the coach’s first three seasons.
“Once you’re the hunter, now you’re going to be the hunted because everybody knows you had a very good nonconference,” Chambers said. “Everybody understands where you are, so it’s exciting to be in this position for the first time in four years and we look forward to the challenge.”
After a sluggish start Monday, Penn State turned the game into a rout by halftime.
Dartmouth (5-6) took its lone lead, 7-5, on a layup by Maldunas just more than four minutes into the game. It lasted just 24 seconds as Ross Travis hit a jumper on the ensuing possession.
The Travis bucket started a 19-2 run to build a 24-9 lead with more than seven minutes to play in the first half.
In the final four minutes before the break, Penn State outscored Dartmouth 14-1 to extend the lead to 41-16.
The Nittany Lions shot 57.7 percent (15-26) from the field, 40 percent (4-10) from beyond the arc and were perfect (7-7) from the free-throw line in the opening 20 minutes.
“Fortunately, we had a very mature approach today,” Chambers said. “We were ready to play. We were ready to play basketball, and again, I give that credit to the veterans. They did a great job preparing yesterday and today on short rest (after playing Drexel on Saturday) and they came out and competed really hard.”
Chambers said he talked to his team about using the second half to continue to get better.
The coach was also able to monitor’s his players’ minutes and to get his reserves some more time.
Newbill, who came into the game averaging 38.2 minutes per game, played a season-low 30 minutes. Newbill was the only Penn State player to reach the 30-minute mark.
Meanwhile, guard Devin Foster played for the first time since getting three minutes in the second game of the season against Fordham. Foster checked in with 12:44 remaining and played nine minutes. He scored two points — the first of his Penn State career — and finished with two turnovers.
“My goal was to get Devin Foster in,” Chambers said. “He’s earned the right over the last couple weeks. It’s nerves, he hasn’t played since the beginning of the season.”
Newbill said he thought the team improved since the beginning of the season, but the team won’t know how it stacks up in the Big Ten until the games begin.
“I feel more confident going into the Big Ten conference,” Thorpe said. “But we do have to continue to get better in practice. We won’t really know where we’re at until we’re in the Big Ten.”
Chambers said his team can improve defensively, its offensive execution and on the offensive glass.
But the coach said the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedule, made up of opponents of varying styles, will prepare them for conference play.
“When you do that and you come out the way we did at 12-1, we’re in a good place,” Chambers said. “We can still get a lot better, which is really, really scary to me on how good we can really be when we’re all dialed in and focused.
“And that’s what we’ll work on when we get back after this little Christmas break.”