Penn State's trip to South Carolina for the Charleston Classic was supposed to be a barometer for the Nittany Lions to see where they stand at this early stage in the season. They would have the opportunity to play three quality, but beatable teams if everything went according to planned. But things did not go as planned, and instead we got to see the resiliency of the D.J. Newbill led team.
Game 1: Charlotte 106 - Penn State 97 (2 OT)
Penn State started out the first game against Charlotte slow, going down 8-0 before head coach Pat Chambers called a timeout. The Nittanly Lions then went on a 16-3 run to take the lead at 16-11. The 49ers responded, scoring the next 13 points to take a 24-16 lead with 8 minutes left in the first half. From there, it was a game of cat and mouse. Penn State pulled within 3, 26-23, and the 49ers pushed the lead back to 11. Penn State was able to cut the deficit to 6 before the half ended, with Charlotte leading 40-34. Penn State would score first out of the gate in the 2nd half to cut the deficit to 4. Charlotte then went on a run to go up by 12, and eventually stretched that lead to 17 with 12 minutes left in the game. Penn State would fight back to make it a 3 point game with only 14 seconds remaining. D.J. Newbill missed his attempt to tie the game, but he followed his shot, got the offensive rebound, and kicked it out to a wide open John Johnson, who was sitting at the three point line waiting for the ball to find him. And he wouldn't miss his opportunity, sending the game to an unlikely third period. The first overtime was back and forth, and ended rather anti-climatically in a 90-90 draw. To a 2nd overtime they would go, where the Nittany Lion's ran out of gas, leading to a final score of 106-97. With a win, Penn State would have been able to face South Carolina. Instead, they would face Cornell, out of the Ivy League.
Game 2: Penn State 72 - Cornell 71
This was a game that Penn State had to win. Cornell won only 2 games last season, and a loss to them would be devastating. However, they came out of the gates slow and had to play catch up for the majority of the game. They found themselves down 31-18 with 5 minutes left in the first half. They were able to cut that deficit to 9 at halftime, and they came out strong in the 2nd half and trailed by only 1 four minutes into the half. Cornell would counter, and pushed their lead back out to 11 only four minutes later. Penn State would fight back to tie the game with 5 minutes remaining. Cornell and Penn State would trade baskets for the next four minutes until Cornell was able to take a four point lead with 36 seconds remaining. From there, Penn State would trade 2 pointers for free throws, and still found themselves down 4, 71-67 with only 15 seconds left. Penn States offense moved a bit slowly getting up the court, and D.J. Newbill had a floater attempt blocked. The ball eventually found it way into the hands of John Johnson, who knocked down a three pointer to cut the deficit to 1, 71-70. Cornell then struggled twice to inbound the ball, resulting in an errant inbounds pass that found its way into freshman Shep Garner's hands at mid-court with 4.8 seconds remaining. He quickly passed it to D.J. Newbill, who was on the left wing. Newbill went baseline, blowing past his defender before making a layup as time expired. Penn State had survived 72-71, and got to face USC in their final game in Charleston.
Game 3: Penn State 63- USC 61
In the 5th place game of the Charleston Classic, Penn State matched up against the Trojans from Southern Cal. Penn State jumped out to an early 15-2 lead. something that they haven't done all season. The Trojans quickly fought back to tie it 18-18. From then on, the game went back and forth, with no team leading by more than 6. Penn State pulled out the victory in the end on the back of D.J. Newbill, who scored 16 of Penn State's final 22 points in the game.
Random Notes and Observations
- D.J. Newbill is Good at Basketball - D.J. was undoubtedly the star of the tournament for Penn State, averaging 27.7 points in the three games, including 35 in the loss to Charlotte. He is now averaging 23.6 points per game, good enough for first place in the Big Ten. And he's doing it efficiently, connecting on 46% of shots and 52% from 3.
- Shep Garner Continues to Shine - Shep scored in double figures in all three games, and shot 47 % from behind the arc in the tournament. The freshman is 2nd on the team in scoring in this young season (12.6 PPG).
- Front Court Struggles - Penn State got out-rebounded against Charlotte and USC. Donovon Jack is averaging only 3 points and 4 rebounds a game. That isn't going to cut it in the Big Ten. Jack is fouling 6.7 times per 40 minutes. Fouling was an issue that Jack had to work on, and so far this season it is just as bad as last season. And his backup is worse. Jordan Dickerson fouls a staggering 10.5 times per 40 minutes. If they can't solve the foul issues, its going to be a long season for them.
- Brandon Taylor Struggling Offensively - Brandon was expected to be the 2nd leading scorer this year, but he is struggling from the field through 5 games. He is shooting only 24% from three so far. Hopefully he can start to find the bottom of the net on a consistent basis before the start of conference play.
- John Johnson Still Inconsistent - Johnson scored 3 points against Charlotte, and then exploded for 17 against Cornell. He then put up a big fat 0 against USC. When Johnson is hot, he's hot. When he's cold, he disappears for long stretches.
- Slow Starts - Penn State has started off every game this season, with the exception of the USC game, extremely slow out of the gate. Maybe the USC game was a signal that Coach Chambers figured things out with his team. Penn State can't afford to continue to get behind early in games.
Penn State faced Akron on Tuesday and will face Bucknell on Black Friday for a shot at redemption.