When Pat Chambers famously said that he has the best backcourt in the country, he was referring to his duo of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill.
Now when he makes that statement, he’ll have to include John Johnson.
The Pitt transfer was instrumental in Penn State’s 92-82 comeback victory over lowly Mount St. Mary’s, scoring 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting in his first game for the Blue and White after sitting out all of last season and the first half of this season to comply with the NCAA’s transfer rules.
“I expected a good output,” Pat Chambers said after the game. “It wasn’t just his offense. I thought he did some good things defensively, he helped us get some steals and turnovers.”
Despite playing a Mount St. Mary’s team that has struggled this season – the loss dropped the Mountaineers to 3-8 on the season – it wasn’t a walk in the park for the Nittany Lions. Mount St. Mary’s shot uncharacteristically well from behind the arc and Tim Frazier had a quiet game for his lofty standards, but Penn State was able to battle back from an 11 point deficit to move to 9-4, its best non-conference record since 2008-09, when Talor Battle and co. went 11-2 en route to winning the NIT.
With the memory of last week’s collapse against Princeton still on the team’s mind – “Going into the game, all week in practice, we had that bitter taste in our mouth,” Newbill said – Penn State came out sluggish, and its struggles defending three pointers were on full display. Mount St. Mary’s came into the game shooting a paltry 31.5 percent from downtown, but went 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) from behind the arc for the first half.
“They were on fire, it happens,” Chambers said.
The two teams traded blows for much of the first half, and neither side was able to get much separation. However, the Mountaineers, propelled by their hot shooting from downtown, led by as many as 11 points during the frame, and going into the locker room, Penn State trailed 46-37. Brandon Taylor led the way for the Nittany Lions with 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first frame.
“Coach said we’ve never been down by that much and won the game,” Newbill said. “I think this showed how much better we got since the last loss, it shows our heart.”
Penn State came out during the second half and immediately went on a 6-0 run to start the frame. However, Mount St. Mary’s responded by scoring five unanswered points. For much of the second half, this back and forth between the two teams was not uncommon.
However, Johnson began taking over midway through the half, scoring eight straight points in 90 seconds to tie the game at 65, including an amazing layup that led to an and one.
The two teams continued to battle, with neither team leading by more than four point until the end of the game, when Penn State began imposing its will on Mount St. Mary’s and pulled away to a 92-82 victory. The 92 points are the second most the team has scored under Chambers, trailing only the 93 Penn State put up in its victory over Longwood earlier this season.
Pulling away in the waning moments has been an issue for Penn State several times this year, something that the entire squad has learned from.
“You have flashbacks of Bucknell,” Chambers said. “You have flashbacks of Ole Miss. You have flashbacks of Princeton. What we wanted to do in those huddles was calm everybody down and put guys in the right position to be successful, and I felt like they did that.”
While Johnson led the way with 20 points in 22 minutes, he wasn’t the only Nittany Lion to have a big game. Newbill had 18 points and 6 boards, Frazier had 15 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds, and Ross Travis had 14 points and 6 rebounds.
Johnson’s debut overshadowed the surprising debut of big man Jordan Dickerson, who learned yesterday that he was eligible to play this season yesterday afternoon. Dickerson had 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 8 minutes.
“We gotta keep getting Jordan in there,” Chambers said. “He looked like a guy who hasn’t played in a year, and that’s ok. He’ll continue to get reps.”
The team now has more than a week off before it kicks off Big Ten play at the Bryce Jordan Center against 5th ranked Michigan State on New Year’s Eve.