Geno Thorpe has made his name as a defensive stopper early in his Penn State basketball career.
The pesky 6-foot-3 sophomore pressures opposing guards and cuts off passing lanes to cause turnovers and deflections.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers called Thorpe “a bulldog” as he referenced the abilities that he expected to ignite the Nittany Lions on the defensive end days before the season opener. But he also said Thorpe’s offensive game was coming along.
The defensive stopper was knocking down shots and getting to the basket.
Thorpe has proven to be more than just the team’s best defender seven games into the season. He has scored in double figures four times after accomplishing the feat just once as a freshman. Thorpe is averaging 9.0 points per game while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 86.2 percent from the free throw line.
“I see improvements in the game, but really it’s just about me taking smart shots and just taking the right shot and making the right plays,” Thorpe said. “And that’s all I’m trying to do really and it makes the game easier for me.”
Thorpe will look to continue his strong start when Penn State (6-1) takes on Virginia Tech (4-2) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Thorpe said he focused on trying to become an all-around guard during the summer.
He worked on his 3-point shooting — an area of his game he rarely showed as a freshman. Thorpe went 3 for 10 from beyond the arc in 32 games in 2013-14. He’s 4 for 12 from 3-point range this year.
Thorpe has proven to be effective driving to the basket and finishing in transition. It’s resulted in him nearly tripling his average of 3.2 points per game last season while seeing his minutes double to 23.6 per game.
Thorpe said he has learned to enjoy his role as the team’s defensive stopper, too.
His latest standout effort came against Bucknell, when he quieted Bison leading scorer Chris Hass down the stretch. Hass called Thorpe’s “hardcore denial” something Bucknell hadn’t seen all season.
But it was the type of performance Thorpe’s teammates have gotten used to seeing.
“When Geno gets into the game, it’s like a whole ‘nother game,” Penn State guard D.J. Newbill said. “He increases our intensity. He understands that we need him to come off the bench and be a big part of this team, so he’s embraced his role.”
Newbill picks up
Big Ten honor
Newbill was named the Big Ten Co-Player of the Week by the conference Monday, sharing the honor with Maryland freshman Melo Trimble.
The Penn State guard averaged 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while leading the Nittany Lions to wins over Akron and Bucknell last week.
“That’s a team award,” Newbill said. “My teammates help me out a lot. The coaching staff does a good job of putting me in position of where I can be successful. My teammates are doing a good job of just helping me out all around — defense, offense — so that’s a team award for me and I’m grateful for it.”
Newbill is averaging 25.0 points per game, good for third in the country. He also leads the nation in points (175), field goals (59) and field goal attempts (120). Trimble also earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. He averaged 21.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists as Maryland picked up wins over No. 13 Iowa State, Arizona State, Monmouth and VMI.
Trimble shot an impressive 63.6 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from 3-point range and 91.7 percent from the free throw line last week.
Travis finds comfort zone
Before Penn State left for Bucknell on Friday, Ross Travis was in the gym shooting.
The senior forward was averaging just 5.3 points through six games, and he had yet to make a 3-pointer all season. So, Newbill said, Travis was working on his shot, trying to break out of a slump when the Nittany Lions faced the Bison that afternoon.
Bucknell was well aware of Travis’ struggles and laid off the forward on the perimeter. Travis made the Bison pay, hitting all five shots he took in the first half, including two 3-pointers. He finished 6 for 7 from the field for 14 points — his first game in double figures this season — to help Penn State to the 88-80 win.
“He played at a whole different pace,” Chambers said. “Just slowed down and took open shots, felt very comfortable shooting the ball, didn’t look rushed. He’s got to play like that. I think we got a really, really good, effective player when he plays to his style, his pace.”
A look at the Hokies
Virginia Tech is coming off back-to-back wins over Miami (Ohio) and Morgan State.
The Hokies are led by guards Adam Smith (14.3 ppg) and Justin Bibbs (12.2 ppg). 6-foot-10 forward Joey van Zegeren is third on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg) and leads Virginia Tech with 6.5 rebounds per game. Virginia Tech is shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range.
Virginia Tech suffered consecutive losses to Appalachian State and Northern Iowa before winning its last two games. The Hokies beat Morgan State 83-63 on Sunday.
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams is in his first season at the helm. Williams spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Marquette, where he went 139-69 and led the Golden Eagles to five NCAA tournament appearances.