There were plenty of ugly spurts in Penn State's 60-57 victory over Bucknell Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. But ultimately, it was a strong win against a previously unbeaten opponent during a time when no one was sure how the Nittany Lions would respond to the loss of senior guard Tim Frazier, who will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.
Finishing Strong: Bucknell (5-1) had the contest within three points twice in the game's final 2:15, but that was when Penn State (3-2) scrapped together just enough pieces to hang on. The turning point came with 35 seconds to play, when Sasa Borovnjak grabbed an errant D.J. Newbill jumper and stuffed it back to extend the Nittany Lions lead to five at 57-52. Or so we thought. Bison guard Cameron Ayer drilled a three 24 seconds later to cut the lead to two, but a Jermaine Marshall free-throw preserved the lead with nine seconds to play, and Ayers' last second shot from the corner fell short.
Boxing Out: Patrick Chambers said earlier this year that he'd like a combined double-double out of big men Borovjnak and Jon Graham. Though he didn't get it on this night, he got the next best thing. Penn State outrebounded Bucknell 38-31, including a 14-3 advantage on the offensive boards that was spurred by a 10-0 domination in the first half. Newbill led Penn State with seven boards, while Graham and Borovjnak combined to chip in nine. It was an impressive performance against Bucknell's inside presence from senior center Mike Miscala (6-foot-11) and forward Joe Willman, who pulled 12 and six boards, respectively.
Starting Slow: Things couldn't have gone much worse for the Nittany Lions offensively in the first half, shooting a dreadful 5-for-31 from the field and 2-of-13 from the 3-point line. Penn State also accrued just three assists in the opening stanza, putting it in a 22-16 hole. Ultimately, the deficit wasn't as bad as it could have been, as Bucknell failed to execute in stretches. Penn State's defense forced 12 Bucknell turnovers, paced by Marshall's four steals. While the Lion overcame it Friday, another slow start has to be of concern for Chambers.
Terrific Taylor: True freshman forward Brandon Taylor may have been making his first start Friday night in place of Frazier, but looking at the box score, you wouldn't know it. Taylor finished with 16 points on a 6-for-11 night from the field, including 4-of-8 from three. Coach said just shoot the ball, so I left it fly, Taylor said. We work in practice every day on shooting the ball with confidence. It was a bright start to a seemingly bright career for Taylor.
Newbill Nifty: D.J. Newbill is still getting used to running the point in Chambers' offense. But so far, so good. Newbill finished with a team-high seven assists to go with 10 points, a block and seven rebounds. I thought he did an incredible job for the first time playing point guard for 37 minutes. That's tough to ask a combo guard to do that, Chambers said. But Newbill feels just fine in his new role. With not having Tim on the floor, he usually gets us open shots, but now the other guys like Jermaine, Sasa, and Ross and myself all stepped up our game, and we have to continue to, Newbill said. It felt good. I've been working on it, so that's what we got to do.