UNIVERSITY PARK — Despite poor perimeter shooting and trouble guarding the 3-point line — areas Penn State struggled in last season — the Nittany Lions still managed to sneak past Saint Francis 65-58 in their season opener on Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers recently talked about his team needing to find ways to win close games at the team's media day. And against the Red Flash on Friday, free throws were the difference.
“When you’re not making shots you have to figure out what you’re doing well,” Chambers said. “So at halftime, I’m seeing that we’re shooting good free throws. So I just told them to just drive the basketball.”
Tim Frazier, who scored a game-high 23 points, and D.J. Newbill, who added 16 points and seven rebounds, went a combined 26 of 28 at the foul line, supplementing the team’s poor shooting everywhere else. (Frazier 17 of 18 from the foul line, Newbill 9 of 10)
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Penn State shot just 17-for-47 from the field and just 3-for-24 from beyond the arc (36 and 12.5 percent, respectively). In contrast, Saint Francis shot 21-for-45 from the field and 7-for-19 beyond the arc (46.7 and 36.8 percent, respectively).
Chambers said he was disappointed with the way his team shot and turned the ball over, but still proud that they found a way to win.
“The fact that we won tonight and we shot 3-for-24 and had 17 turnovers, that says a lot a bout where we’re headed,” Chambers said. “Last year we probably lose this game … but I was proud of the way we didn’t fold.”
Penn State had a chance to put the game away in the first half. They led 19-9 with about six minutes to go, when the Red Flash went on an 8-2 run that not only got them back in the game, but also helped them get into the locker room down just 26-20.
When the second half began, Ollie Jackson heated up for the Red Flash. The sophomore scored eight points in a row as part of an 11-4 run that gave Saint Francis a 31-30 lead after a Kam Ritter three that banked in with 16:55 remaining.
“I thought Ollie did a great job,” said Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel, a State College graduate, who made his head coaching debut. “He’s been consistent all preseason for us and he’s a kid we’re going to rely on heavily this year to score the ball.”
But Tim Frazier took over for the Lions, scoring 16 points after Ritter’s three and later led Penn State on the 12-2 run that broke the game open. Chambers knows he can’t always rely on his senior to do it alone.
“That spurt by Tim was a one man spurt,” Chambers said. “I don’t want to rely on that every night. We can’t rely on that every night. We need the five guys on the floor to play together and to play hard.”
Ross Travis scored 10 points and had nine rebounds, five of them offensive. Jermaine Marshall chipped in with 9 points and six rebounds.
Chambers said he was disappointed with the poor shooting and hopes it doesn’t continue but that his team can still find ways to win.
“We need to be able to not make shots and still play hard,” Chambers said. “Look, it’s November 9th. We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.”
Next up for Penn State is the Puerto-Rico Tipoff tournament and a first-round game against No. 6 North Carolina State, who won their opener Friday night 97-59 over Miami of Ohio.