Penn State’s D.J. Newbill is a work in progress at point guard.
In fact, the Nittany Lions (4-4) as a team are still under construction, the season-ending injury to Tim Frazier having forced several players into new and uncomfortable positions.
Penn State’s 82-57 loss to La Salle (5-1) is what you would have expected from an inexperienced team playing on the road without its best player. There was some good, some very bad, and one ugly stretch that broke the game open.
Newbill acquitted himself quite well at the point for most of his 40-minute night against the Explorers’ intense full-court pressure. He finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers.
However, nerves may have contributed to his poor shooting in his Philadelphia homecoming. He finished the game 5 of 13 from the field, but an errant three in the first half elicited “airball” chants from the La Salle faithful after each time he handled the ball.
“We didn’t defend and rebound but we did a decent job of getting the ball up the floor for the most part,” said Penn State coach Patrick Chambers. “Eleven turnovers … I’ll take that every game.”
In the first half, Newbill assisted on three of Penn State’s first four baskets, helping to facilitate one of the best opening offensive performances of the season. The team shot 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from the 3-point line and trailed 38-34 at halftime despite being outscored in the half 24 to 9 from behind the arc.
After the game, Newbill said neither the minutes he logged nor the atmosphere of the crowed sapped his strength or confidence in the game’s latter stages.
“He’s doing the best he can,” Chambers said of Newbill when asked about the energy he expended. “And that’s all we can ask of him. And so is Jermaine Marshall. Those guys are playing hard and they’re doing the best they can.”
Marshall led the team in scoring for the fourth consecutive time with 19 points on 6 of 12 shooting. He also played 37 minutes and spelled Newbill on occasion at the point.
Ross Travis and Sasa Borovnjak played inspired first half basketball. Before the game, former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy — who was on the NBC Sports Network broadcast team that called the game — said he could tell Travis had skill but needed to be more assertive.
Travis made four of his first five jump shots, including six points in a row early in the first half. He made definitive and aggressive moves and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds for the game. The sophomore has struggled mightily from the outside all season despite, Chambers said, shooting well in practice.
“I see it in practice every day so it doesn’t surprise me,” Chambers said. “Ross is very capable. And that’s the Ross Travis that we need on a daily basis. He does it in practice every day. That’s the first time he did it in a game. He did a great job.”
Borovnjak finished with eight points and eight rebounds, but his play in the first half kept the Nittany Lions close during a critical stretch. Trailing 36-26 with 4:04 left in the half, Penn State went on an 8-2 run. Borovnjak scored six of the eight points as Penn State finished the half down just 38-34.
La Salle outscored Penn State 48-9 from the 3-point line. There was no answer for Tyreek Duren. The junior from Philadelphia scored a game-high 29 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the field and 4 of 7 from three. Sam Mills and Ramon Galloway each had 14 points and went a combined 7 of 16 from three. For the game, La Salle shot 49 percent from the field (24 of 49).
The Explorers had six different players amass the team's 16 3-point field goals (16 of 31). While Penn State (3 of 12) received just two makes from Marshall and one from Brandon Taylor in the first half, the freshman’s only points of the game.
Despite multiple defensive looks, Penn State defenders consistently found themselves in closeout situations. The Nittany Lions chased La Salle’s crisp ball movement all night. They forced just four La Salle turnovers.
After a Newbill spin move and layup in the lane cut the La Salle lead to 47-43 with 14:12 left in the game, the Explorers went on a 21-3 run that effectively ended the game.
After a 30-foot 3-pointer from Galloway followed a D.J. Peterson three on the previous possession, Duren scored 12-straight points for La Salle.
Penn State looked like a tired team that would have two players (Newbill and Travis) play 40 minutes and a third (Marshall) play 37. Chambers’ attempts to spell his team by using timeouts couldn’t help.
“They were done. My squad was done. That’s why I took that timeout just because I saw some tired legs,” Chambers said. “You can see people’s facial expressions and you see body language. They played so hard for those 25 minutes. We just don’t have a deep bench right now. But we have to go back to work tomorrow, keep practicing and keep getting better.”
Penn State will play Army at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Big Ten Network will televise the game.