The Other Shoe Drops: Penn State’s Tournament Run Ended by Purdue, 64-59
D.J. Newbill got to Penn State under some rather unfortunate circumstances. He went from believing he was Milwaukee-bound to Mississippi, before finally finding a home in State College. He sat around and waited for a year after his transfer from Southern Miss, unable to play due to NCAA restrictions. A great basketball player and even better person, when he finally took the court, he was electric. For the last three seasons, D.J. Newbill has given Penn State basketball absolutely everything he had in him. Night-after-night of being the leading scorer, the only guy capable of scoring with his man stuck to his hip since Talor Battle was around. D.J. Newbill was a Swiss army knife of an attacker, the kind of guy who could slice his way through the lane on the way to a hoop and a harm just as easily as he could take a step-back jumper at the elbow, or nail a contested corner three. D.J. Newbill made Penn State basketball enjoyable during a grueling three-year stretch that saw the Nittany Lions settle in as Big Ten cellar dwellers. D.J. Newbill became one of the best guards in the country this season, and the second-best in the Big Ten behind future lottery pick and Ohio State Buckeye D’Angelo Russell. D.J. Newbill was everything to Penn State, and the fans adored him. D.J. Newbill was always a quiet type of leader, a cool, calm and collected veteran presence. A combo guard with ice blood in his veins and unique ability to strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses like no Penn State player before him. That calming, borderline-stoic demeanor that was a staple of this program for the majority of most current students’ college careers gave way to pure emotion tonight.
The last few futile seconds were the D.J. Newbill show, as he drained free throws and canned a ridiculous three and even cut through the lane with reckless abandon. It was a quick summary of his entire career, doing all he can to keep a doomed PSU squad in a game against a superior opponent. Pat Chambers removed him from the game for the last few seconds to a standing ovation. As the clock struck zero and Penn State fell to Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, D.J. Newbill put his head down, doubled over and let it all out. A good cry can be as cathartic as a therapy session, and Penn State basketball fans in that moment saw their hero as positively human. D.J. Newbill was never a National Player of the Year candidate. He was never an All-American. He was never a savior. He was a man who gave his talent and leadership and heart and soul to a program that needed all of that and more. While the cinderella story we were all dreaming of early in the first half never came to fruition, D.J. Newbill would have given anything for it to have gone on just a few minutes longer. We should be so honored to have watched such a great career play out on our campus over the last few years, a man as dedicated to this team, this program, and this University as any you could find. D.J. Newbill is a true Penn Stater in every sense of the phrase.
How it Happened
It all looked great early on. This team had a team of destiny feel and a massive chip on its shoulder. We could make a run, at least until Wisconsin. When our aforementioned hero hit three consecutive jump shots, including two threes, it felt like it’d be one of those games where Penn State puts it all together. By the time we reached the first TV timeout with just under 12 minutes to play in the first half, the Nittany Lions held a 15-12 lead, which they’d extend on Geno Thorpe free throws, a Donovon Jack offensive game sighting, and Ross Travis’ newly found penchant for awesome reverse layups. Travis had himself a day once again, finishing with ten points and nine rebounds. That was followed up with a great post move jumper, plus a free from Jordan Dickerson, who can absolutely disappear on offense but made some important buckets. Travis hit a pair of free throws again to finish 7-8 over his last two games after shooting just 25% from the stripe previously. The Penn State lead was 28-17, and there was a feeling that we could keep this run going. Then, Purdue outscored Penn State 15-9 to end the half, cutting hard into a double digit lead with extensive momentum after a 6-0 run to end the half. Even with a Ross Travis monster dunk and a Donovon Jack three-pointer, which have been about as rare as a unicorn this season, it didn’t feel quite right.
Both teams traded buckets in the second half’s opening minutes before Newbill grabbed a rebound and drew the foul on the other end. The normally reliable Newbill missed two free throws, and a supercharged Purdue run turned a 41-35 lead into a 42-41 deficit. Penn State went nearly five minutes without a field goal before Geno Thorpe drained a jumper that took a nice bounce off the iron, and Newbill followed it up with a layup. The battle stayed close as A.J. Hammons and Vince Edwards traded points with Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson. Unfortunately, the momentum wouldn’t last. Penn State was visibly exhausted, having played three hard-fought games in three days and Purdue well-rested heading in to the tournament. The wheels started to come off after the TV timeout with a bit over seven minutes to play. Purdue came out and went on a 10-0 run, taking a 57-50 lead as Penn State went eight-and-a-half minutes without scoring. The exhaustion was evident in weak jumpers, a lack of explosion, and bad fouls. With 40 seconds to play, Newbill took a ridiculous three with two men draped all over again that got nothing but net on his way to scoring Penn State’s last nine points. Fouling to stay in the game, there simply was not enough time for Penn State’s late comeback attempt to take flight. With four seconds left, Newbill split two men, drove to the basket, sliced through the defense and laid the ball in, a move he’s used with an assassin’s touch over the years. He exited the game visibly emotional, hugging his coach and teammates as the last few seconds ticked off. Newbill didn’t have the greatest game of his career, shooting 6-18 from the field for 19 points, but his scoring and Ross Travis’ star turn over the last three days kept the Lions in it to the bitter end. If it’s the last game either man plays in blue and white, they should be proud of their efforts this week at the United Center. Let’s hope they get another game together.
Player of the Game
D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis led Penn State and both get lifetime achievement awards, and Brandon Taylor’s eights points and five boards are worth a mention as well. The whole team deserves this, though, for keeping us so emotionally invested the last few days. It’s been a difficult season, but we got to enjoy this at the end of it.
Tweet of the Game
— Onward State (@OnwardState) March 13, 2015
Something, hopefully. Penn State should receive a CBI bid, and would look to avenge their failings in the third-tier tournament last year. However, the combination of this run, a strong fan base, a good record overall including excellent non-conference gives Penn State an outside shot at an NIT bid. Wouldn’t that be something?