After losing six straight games, Penn State has now won two in a row. DJ Newbill, unsurprisingly, played the role of hero today for the Nittany Lions. The senior from Philadelphia scored 26 points on 22 shots, including four three pointers. There were moments during this game when it felt like Newbill was unguardable, raining in 25-footers and slashing to the rim through a porous Nebraska defense. In the end, he and Shep Garner carried their teammates to a win, even if there were a few scares along the way.
It was a five point game at half despite the fact that the Cornhuksers only shot 26.5% thanks to Terran Petteway's 16 first half points. He and Shavon Shields accounted for 26 of Nebraska's of 29 points in the first frame, and if that seems like it would be unsustainable over the course of a full 40, that's because it is. Nebraska fell behind by as many as 16 in the second half, only to mount a slow-burning comeback, closing the gap to one several times toward the end of the game. Penn State should be a little concerned heading into their matchup with Iowa because the Cornhuskers got back in the game by outplaying them to the tune of a 14-0 run over a five or six minute period as opposed to the usual frantic flurry of threes and steals that March somehow always brings out in teams. Penn State made another run of their own, only to see the lead dwindle again towards the closing seconds of the game.
This type of game usually either points to the fact that a team is mentally tough enough to reel off a few improbable wins or that a team isn't able to build momentum from big leads or wins. The beauty of tournament time is that we'll find out tomorrow.
This very well could have been a two-on-two game: only four (!) players scored in double digits (Petteway, Shields, Newbill, and Garner) Newbill and Petteway seemed to be looking for a shot whenever they could, but it's hard to fault them for doing so. It made for a choppy game with a lot of forced shots by the two best players on the floor. Petteway ended up with a surprisingly efficient stat line given the flow of the game (29 points on 17 shots, 8/11 from the line), but Newbill can't make any such claim. The Penn State star (as much of a star that Penn State basketball can have, anyway) chose his spots well, though, almost single handedly accounting for the 16 point lead that PSU built in the second half and nailing a few big shots down the stretch.
This game was a battle between two players (four, really, but this game felt like it belonged to Newbill and Petteway from opening tip) hellbent on not letting their college careers end. The problem with hero-ball, Nebraska found, is that relying so much on one player is volatile. Despite his outstanding game, Petteway missed a free throw with 1:20 left that would have made it one possession game and fumbled a contested defensive rebound with about eight seconds left that led to PSU's possession on a jump ball. Nebraska got the ball back under their own basket down three with four seconds left and, predictably, couldn't get a look better than a running forty footer at the buzzer.
Penn State found success with hero-ball today, but they'll need the rest of the lineup to step up tomorrow afternoon against Iowa if they have any chance of knocking off the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately for PSU, the chances of them replicating a tournament record 16 blocks seem slim against a bigger, more skilled Iowa team. The good news: March favors the bold, and DJ Newbill proved today that he's nothing if not bold.