Penn State Edges Virginia Tech 61-58 in B1G/ACC Challenge

It wasn’t pretty, but the Penn State basketball team pulled out yet another tight win against Virginia Tech on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions (7-1) outlasted the Hokies (4-3) for a 61-58 win after struggling early in both halves with turnovers and shooting.

As it has for most of the season, Penn State’s offense relied on D.J. Newbill to pace things. Early in the first half, he and the rest of the team looked frantic. The Lions coughed up eight turnovers in the half with the majority coming in the first 10 minutes.

“Those guys did a great job of jumping all our plays,” Newbill said. “My teammates contributed a lot, they didn’t have to rely on me today.”

Newbill, the nation’s third-leading scorer, only had five points in the first half, and seemed to be amped up to face opposing coach Buzz Williams. Head coach Pat Chambers was understanding of the senior’s emotions.

“I’m sure there was something there,” Chambers said. “You can’t be a human being and what went on, you can’t let that slip up I guess. But Buzz is a really good coach and they did do a good job on him [defensively]. He needed to slow down and let the game come to him a little bit.”

Amidst Newbill’s slow start, the Lions relied on freshman Shep Garner to get the momentum going. Garner started off hot with an array of deep jumpers and drives to the hole. With Penn State trailing by three points late in the first half, Garner had one of the signature moments of the game on a Payton Banks free throw attempt. The shot was a 1-and-1 — a fact that everyone seemed to forget but Garner, as he swooped in for the offensive rebound and scored to put his team within one. Garner finished with 15 points.

“Nobody thought it was 1-and-1, so it was a heads up play,” Ross Travis said. “It was huge. I’m not really surprised, he plays like a vet out there and us veterans have trust that he’s going to go out there and make the right play.”

The Lions ended the half with a 30-27 lead, but went cold to start the second. They went 0-for-12 from the field as the Hokies built up an eight point lead. Around the 11 minute mark, however, Jordan Dickerson followed a missed shot by Newbill for a two-handed tip slam. The play gave Penn State just enough momentum as the Lions broke out on a 19-2 run to put them ahead for good. What started with Dickerson was finished with Newbill, who filled it in with 11 points throughout the run, finishing with a team-high 18 points.

Missed free throws allowed the Hokies back into the game, but Ross Travis cleaned the offensive boards in the game’s biggest closing moments. During the run, Travis reeled in a Donovon Jack miss as the shot clock was winding down. After he kicked it out Banks missed another shot from outside, but Travis once again ripped down the board before being fouled. Travis added six points to go along with 10 boards.

“Everybody kills Ross and I get, I get it,” Chambers said. “He makes winning plays! The tap back on the free throw line, I mean we couldn’t find the bottom of the basket the last two minutes… No one works harder than that kid.”

In the closing minutes, Virginia Tech repeatedly sent Penn State players to the line, while the freshman Garner kept his cool, going 4-for-4 in the last minute. Newbill missed a pair with four seconds on the clock, but fortunately for Penn State, Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“Being in how many? I think six [close games]? I think our guys are poised under pressure and they understand end-of-game situations and we work on situations everyday in practice,” Chambers said. “I think this is really going to help us when we get to the Big Ten.”

Penn State added a win for the Big Ten side in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the conference finished up 8-6 to win the Challenge for the fourth time in six seasons. The Lions resume play Saturday on the road against Marshall.

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