In the first 88 seconds of the second half, Penn State landed the knockout blow against Rutgers.
The Nittany Lions would not allow the Scarlet Knights to hang around. There would be no comeback or collapse. Not after Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner connected on back-to-back 3-pointers out of the break.
Not after D.J. Newbill finished a breakaway layup through contact, flexing his muscles as he walked to the foul line to complete the three-point play and 88-second onslaught. Penn State’s lead had ballooned 22 points, and the Nittany Lions blasted Rutgers 79-51 for their first Big Ten win Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“We have a tendency over my time here to relax and to play the score instead of just competing and blowing it out and winning every possession you can,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “And that’s the most important thing is not to focus on outcome.”
Chambers said his team got caught up in winning and losing early in conference play. Losses to Wisconsin, Rutgers and Michigan snowballed into an 0-6 start, marked by shooting woes and defensive lapses. The Nittany Lions (13-7, 1-6) snapped the six-game slide by going 10 for 20 from beyond the arc and capitalizing on Scarlet Knight turnovers.
Newbill paced Penn State with 23 points on 8 for 12 shooting. Taylor added 16 points, and Garner chipped in with 13 and went 3 for 4 from deep. Taylor suffered a right-knee injury with 9:45 remaining and did not return.
“I don’t have an official update,” Chambers said. “I know he banged knees, so I’m still waiting for the results, what the doctor tells me.
“I wanted them to have some fun in the locker room before going to the doctors. We haven’t tasted success in a couple weeks here, so let them enjoy this one.”
The Nittany Lions buried the Scarlet Knights with their best conference performance from deep. Penn State came into the game shooting 30 percent from 3-point range in its first six conference games.
After Rutgers (10-11, 2-6) jumped out to a 6-0 lead, Taylor knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner. 6-foot-9 forward Donovon Jack then hit his first 3-pointer of the season after missing six attempts going into Saturday.
Payton Banks drilled another 3 before Newbill connected from the top of the key to give the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game, 12-11.
“They came out like gangbusters,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “They were gunslingers today in a good way.”
Their confidence translated to the defensive end, another downfall for the Nittany Lions during the six-game slide.
“When you make shots, it’s easier to go back and go guard and rebound and do the little things,” Chambers said. “And that’s why we prepare every day for missing shots.”
Penn State had allowed the most points to opponents, 73.0, in conference games before blowing out the Scarlet Knights. The Nittany Lions also used their defense to boost the efficient offensive effort, scoring a season-high 21 points off turnovers.
Geno Thorpe’s steal on an inbounds pass led to a breakaway layup by Garner that gave Penn State a 16-15 lead midway through the first half. The Nittany Lions remained ahead the rest of the way, pushing their advantage to 41-28 at halftime and leading by as many as 31 points in the second half.
The game turned into a rout three possessions into the second half.
Penn State started with a 3-pointer by Taylor. Rutgers followed with a turnover. Garner hit a 3-pointer. Rutgers followed with a turnover.
A long pass by Garner to Thorpe led to Newbill’s fast-break three-point play, and Penn State led 50-28.
“A lot of times we get leads and we let teams come back,” Newbill said. “Now we’re trying to learn how to finish ‘em, keep the foot on the pedal and keep playing hard.”
Penn State ended the frustration of its winless start to conference play that included an ugly loss to Rutgers three weeks ago.
The Nittany Lions shot 50.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range — a far cry from their clips of 28.8 percent and 18.5 percent in the first matchup.
The cold shooting performances continued as the losses piled up until Saturday.
“Your offense always looks good when the ball’s going in the basket,” Chambers said. “We’ve been taking the same shots the last three games, and it just went in a little bit more often today than the past few games.”