For about 35 minutes, it looked like it would be easy.
It turns out that thought could not have been further from the truth as Penn State (6-4) narrowly avoided an upset loss to the Delaware State Hornets (5-6) in a Saturday afternoon Bryce Jordan Center matinee, winning 80-76 in overtime.
The Nittany Lions got off to a hot start, at one point having a 21-3 lead before the Hornets began to chip away at the 18-point margin. Even with the Hornets playing better basketball and beginning to make shots, the Nittany Lions still went to the locker room with a comfortable 37-29 lead.
The second half looked like it would be more of the same. The Nittany Lions led 57-43 at the midway point and still had a 65-55 lead with 3:18 to go. Things began to slowly unravel from there. Poor shot selection by the Lions and a three-pointer from Tyshawn Bell cut the lead to six with 1:40 to go.
Despite a rough few minutes, the Nittany Lions still led 67-62 with 51 seconds to go. If they could make a few free throws, the game would be over. That never happened. First, Donovon Jack, who played an impressive game overall with 8 points and a huge block missed a foul shot. Akosa Madeugbunam, who scored his first career points today but had never before taken a foul shot in a collegiate game, missed two less than ten seconds later. Clinging to a one-point lead, D.J. Newbill would make up for an ill-timed turnover with two free throws, but another three by Bell with 12.2 seconds to go tied the game at 69 and ultimately sent it to overtime.
Delaware State would twice hold a three point lead in overtime, but Penn State responded both times including a Jermaine Marshall three pointer to tie the game at 76 with one minute to play. Marshall’s three would spark a 7-0 run to close out the game. Newbill gave the Lions the lead with thirty seconds to play, using a beautiful hesitation dribble to beat the Delaware State defender to the basket. After Delaware State could not covert on offense, freshman Brandon Taylor would sink 2 two free throws to make it a two possession game with fourteen seconds remaining and ultimately seal the deal.
Head coach Pat Chambers was realistic after the game. “I would love to blow a team out, but this taught us a lot. We have to be smarter, but going into overtime, I think is going to help us.”
With Tim Frazier sidelined for the rest of the season, Newbill will be expected to take and convert some big shots with the game on the line. He did that today, shooting an effective 8-13 from the field with a team-high 22 points. Freshmen like Taylor and Jack will be expected to contribute more than previously anticipated. Both of them had their moments today.
A loss after leading for most of the way would have been disastrous, but this could very well end up serving as a coming of age game for a young team still looking for consistency.
“We played a lot of different guys. We played freshmen at difficult moments. That wisdom, that knowledge, that experience can only help us as Big Ten play begins,” said Chambers.
Now on their first two-game winning streak of the season, the Nittany Lions are back in action next Sunday at home against New Hampshire.