D.J. Newbill has been forced to carry Penn State from time to time this season.
Newbill was the Nittany Lions’ lone source of offense for the first 14-plus minutes against No. 5 Wisconsin on Wednesday night. He found ways to knock down his midrange jumper and finish at the rim with two-time Big Ten-All Defensive Team selection Josh Gasser trying to slow him down. He scored Penn State’s first 12 points and played a part in every point scored in the first half.
But he didn’t get enough help, and Penn State fell 55-47 to the Badgers at the Bryce Jordan Center. Newbill finished with 29 points, accounting for 61.7 percent of his team’s scoring. The Big Ten’s leading scorer went 13 for 21 from the field, a 61.9 percent clip. The rest of the team went 8 for 33, a 24.2 percent clip.
“I’m just trying to get a win, man,” Newbill said. “The points mean nothing to me if we lose the game.”
Penn State (15-12, 3-11) never held a lead as Wisconsin started hot and held off a late comeback attempt. Sam Dekker led Wisconsin with 22 points.
The Badgers (24-2, 12-1) connected on 8 of their first 10 shots before going nearly 10 minutes without a field goal in the first half.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan marveled at his team’s cold finish to the first half and said the Badgers had to focus on getting stops.
But Wisconsin couldn’t stop Newbill.
“If Newbill wants to get his shot, he’s going to get his shot,” Ryan said. “It’s very difficult to keep him from getting a look at the rim — how strong he is with the ball, his deception, change of direction. The key was we wanted to try to make sure we didn't let anybody else get hot. And fortunately they didn’t.”
Newbill hit three midrange jump shots and finished three layups for Penn State’s first 12 points. He used a quick crossover from left to right to get the 6-foot-9 Dekker off balance, went back to his left and stepped back to swish a jumper that cut the deficit to 20-12 with 9:46 to play.
Newbill was 6 for 7 from the field. His teammates had gone a combined 0 for 9 and would miss their first 13 shots.
“I didn’t feel no type of weight, man,” Newbill said. “I was just trying to do whatever I can to keep my team in the game. Those guys, they were allowing me to do a lot.
“I rely on them a lot. But I just had it rolling so I just kept shooting.”
Brandon Taylor joined Newbill in the scoring column with a 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the half. Newbill assisted on the 3 and then set Jordan Dickerson up for an alley-oop that brought Penn State within five points.
With Newbill singlehandedly powering the offense, Penn State trailed Wisconsin 31-24 at halftime.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said Newbill needs help, but the star guard was also the Nittany Lions’ best option.
“I’ve said this since the non-conference, we’re not going to be the best team we can be if he has to score 30 every night,” Chambers said. “It’s just too much pressure. It’s too much stress on one man.
“Now tonight we had to ride him and he was incredible but other guys got to make plays, got to make shots.”
Penn State continued to lean on Newbill in the second half. He scored 13 of the team’s 23 points in the final 20 minutes. Taylor and Geno Thorpe combined for the other 10.
But the Nittany Lions stayed in the game with their defense.
Wisconsin shot 34.6 percent from the field in the second half and 39.2 percent for the game. The Badgers went 1 for 8 with a turnover during a four-plus stretch that saw a 46-32 lead sliced to 48-43.
Penn State got a stop and took possession with a chance to continue its comeback, but Newbill tripped over teammate Ross Travis on the perimeter and turned it over with 3:12 left.
Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, who had 16 points, scored four straight points to push his team ahead by nine.
“It was just a little too late,” Chambers said. “Because what they do is they really grind you down and when they get a lead like 10 or 16, it’s really like 20 or 30 because they really melt the clock.”
Newbill did everything to keep Penn State in the game, but the Nittany Lions dropped their third straight to a ranked opponent.
“I hurt for him,” Chambers said. “I want to win so badly not just for our program, not just for our team, but for him especially. He’s done so much for this program over the last four years. He’s just been an incredible ambassador.”
Notes: Penn State returns to action at Northwestern on Saturday at 3 p.m. … Travis grabbed eight rebounds and has 768 for his career, moving past Gene Harris (762; 1960-62) for third in program history. … Penn State committed a season-low six turnovers. … Wisconsin went 5 for 22 from beyond the arc. Penn State was 2 for 13 from 3-point range.