Thorpe, Newbill Have Both Sides of the Ball Covered

Midway through the first half of Penn State’s 73-54 rout of Fordham, Geno Thorpe dove for a loose ball at mid-court, retrieved it, and in one motion relayed the ball to D.J. Newbill who took it up-court and slammed it home.

Penn State was up 22-11 at the time, and, despite the highlight flair, the dunk in no way made a difference in the blowout. However, in many ways, the sequence was a microcosm of the Nittany Lions’ season so far: Geno Thorpe’s stellar defense paving the way for D.J. Newbill’s dominant offensive start.

Thorpe has consistently guarded the opposing team’s best player this year. Last Friday against a Bucknell team that beat Penn State at the Jordan Center last year, Thorpe was tasked with shutting down the Bison’s Chris Hass, who averages 16.4 points per game. Before Thorpe checked in, Hass had lit up, sparking a Bucknell comeback. Then Thorpe entered, and Hass was held to only one more basket, as the Nittany Lions earned revenge against their in-state foe, 88-80.

“I’ve learned to enjoy it,” Thorpe said of guarding the opponent’s prime scorer following the Bucknell game. “When I first came in that was the role coach Chambers gave me, [and] I just try to do my job.”

Thorpe has also become a viable offensive option. He’s fourth on the team averaging 9.0 points per game over his 3.2 last year. He’s a lanky 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, but he’s shown an ability to finish at the rim.

But Thorpe most stands out on defense, and it’s making his backcourt mate Newbill’s offense better. The two consistently guard each other in practice, the Big Ten’s leading scorer against one of its best on-ball defenders.

“He always wants to play me one-on-one after practice,” said Newbill. “I think he’s one of the best defenders, he helps me get better.”

Newbill certainly has gotten better, which is no easy feat given the 17.8 points per game he averaged last year. Newbill hasn’t scored less than 17 points in a game this season. He’s averaging 28 points per game in his last five outings, a stretch in which he’s played in 203 of the possible 210 minutes. His 25.0 points a game through the first seven games, in which Penn State is 6-1, is third nationally and leads the Big Ten. Monday, he earned his second career Big Ten Player of the Week honor.

“That’s a team award,” said Newbill. “My team does a good job of just helping me out.”

Newbill’s also been incredibly efficient, shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 82.0 percent from the free throw line, both his best clips in his three seasons at Penn State.

Penn State’s pace of schedule now winds down before the grind of the Big Ten begins.

“You can always use a break, this was a good stretch for us,” said Newbill. “Now we get to rest a little bit, get back to the basics, and sharpen up some of our habits.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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