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With Taylor Out and Newbill Struggling, Hoops Wins Without Usual Stars

Penn State basketball proved it could do two things last night that it hadn’t all year: finish out a close Big Ten matchup and win a significant game without a D.J. Newbill scoring explosion.

With second-leading scorer Brandon Taylor absent due to a knee injury, offensive threat John Johnson suspended indefinitely, and D.J. Newbill entering Wednesday’s game against Minnesota fifth in the country in scoring and averaging 29 points per game in his last three outings, it looked like Penn State would win or lose on its star guard’s shoulders.

That was anything but the case.

Newbill still led Penn State with 12 points, but it came on a hassled 4-of-15 shooting and only two first half points. His six turnovers were a season high, two of which came on consecutive possessions late in the game with Penn State up only five.

“It was just one of those nights,” Newbill said. “They played good defense, but I just missed some shots I usually hit.”

It was a team effort that made up for his shortcomings. Nine Nittany Lions scored, including a career-high nine points from Payton Banks, all of which came on first half threes. Geno Thorpe added nine more and lent a hand in two crucial late-game steals.

“We’re so used to D.J. Newbill being so efficient,” head coach Pat Chambers said. “It’s great to see other guys step up. Geno in the first half, Payton in the first half.”

Devin Foster continued his incredible shooting, hitting all three of his field goals en route to eight points. Foster is now 8-of-9 shooting in a four=game stretch (his only miss is a three) that has seen him rise from benchwarmer to a reliable member of Penn State’s rotation in the wake of Johnson’s suspension.

“At first it was just making the transition from Junior College to Division I,” JUCO transfer Foster said. “Now I’m adjusting, just playing hard each and every possession.”

Down low, an area where Penn State has struggled, the Nittany Lions held the Golden Gophers’ three primary forwards to a combined 21 points. Donovon Jack recorded four blocks and six points. Jordan Dickerson added three rejections and six points, displaying a hitherto unseen ability to hit foul shots and finish in traffic. Most impressively, the two only picked up a combined two fouls.

Even Julian Moore, who entered with 13 points on the season, hit two first half field goals, including a nifty contested midrange jumper. Ross Travis scored six points, the most in his last three games.

“Our team stayed confident, the next guy stepped up,” Newbill said. “Everybody played with confidence. Everybody did their job today.”

But a 13-point first half lead and 10-point halftime advantage looked to be squandered when one of Penn State’s 16 turnovers led to a tying basket midway through the second half. Shortly after, the Lions were trailing for the first time since the early minutes.

It could have followed the familiar narrative: five of Penn State’s six conference losses have been under 10 points. This time, the Nittany Lions, despite a lingering inability to inbound against a full court press, got the stops they needed and made their foul shots (16-of-21) under pressure.

“I was really proud of us getting that victory,” Chambers said. “We were down two guys and we came to play and we battled and we competed.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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