There’s only one word that can adequately describe Wednesday night’s first round game of the College Basketball Invitational between Penn State and Hampton: ugly.
The game featured a combined 51 fouls and 22 turnovers, and neither team shot more than 42 percent from the field. Luckily for Pat Chambers, Penn State did fewer things wrong than Hampton, and the Nittany Lions advanced to the second round with a 69-65 win.
“The one thing we try to do with every team we played all year is that we like to make the game ugly,” Hampton head coach Ed Joyner said after the game. “We just are not a pretty team and our execution in most situations is how ugly we can make the ballgame and how much of a defensive battle and struggle we can make the ballgame.”
Joyner’s “ugly” style didn’t seem to have an effect on Penn State early, as the Nittany Lions jumped out to early 10-2 and 18-8 leads, highlighted by this huge Jordan Dickerson dunk.
A quick 12-3 run, however, had the Pirates right back in it at 21-20. The teams traded buckets, but Penn State was able to create a cushion of eight points before halftime. The Nittany Lions led 33-25 behind 10 first half points from Brandon Taylor.
During the second half, however, Hampton’s “ugly” style was evident. Each team committed six fouls within the first four minutes of the half, and things started to get chippy when John Johnson and Hampton’s Ke’Ron Brown received matching technicals fouls.
Every time the Nittany Lions started to pull away, the Pirates fought right back. Penn State leads of 10 points were matched quickly by eight or ten point runs for Hampton. Not even this slick pass from Tim Frazier, playing in possibly his final game at home, to a cutting DJ Newbill for the transition dunk was able to break Hampton’s spirits.
Both teams had trouble making free throws down the stretch, but clutch plays from freshmen Geno Thorpe and Graham Woodward iced the game and gave Penn State the 69-65 win. Thorpe was 4-for-4 from the free throw line, and Woodward took charge of the inbounds plays in the final minute, something that Penn State hasn’t been the best at this year. Coach Chambers had only high praise for the two freshmen guards, who combined to score 14 points, after the game.
“I did have [Woodward] in at the end of the game, which I usually do not,” Chambers said. ” I thought the minutes were critical. I put Woodward in a very critical position. I let him inbound the ball — one of the toughest things to do with less than a minute to go. It is a skill. I thought he handled it well for the first time. Now he has that rep and it will only make him better for the next game.”
“Thorpe is tough, athletic, physical and he will not back down,” Chambers continued. “He has accepted his role at defending the best player on the other team. He is not afraid to get his knee scraped, or to go up and punch a shot. We need that type of toughness; we need it. He is only going to continue to get better.”
Next up for Pat Chambers and co. is a road matchup against Siena (16-17, 11-9 in the MAAC). The game will be played on Monday, March 24 at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY, and the tip off time is TBA.