Nittany Lions surge past Hampton 69-65 in CBI Opener

posted March 20, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Uriah Tagle

The Penn State Nittany Lions (16-17) tipped off postseason play for the first time since 2011, against the Hampton Pirates (18-13) on Wednesday, in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).  Head coach Pat Chambers and his team narrowly edged the Pirates 69-65, to advance to the CBI quarterfinals on Monday, against the Sienna Saints (16-17).

Hampton, who missed the NCAA Tournament after losing to Coppin State in the quarterfinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament, gave Penn State quite the fight.

“That’s a very good team,” said Chambers in his post-game press conference.  “They’ve won 10 out of their last 12 and they’re young, extremely athletic, and quick.”

The Nittany Lions came out of the gates firing in the first half, jumping out to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes, thanks to back-to-back threes from Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, as well as an uncontested layup from Brandon Taylor.  Despite the early lead, Hampton fought their way back into the game quickly, thanks to sophomore guard Brian Darden.

Darden was on fire in the first 10 minutes, scoring 15 of the Pirates’ first 17 points.  The Hampton, VA, native was perfect from the field in the first half, going 4-4 from behind the three-point line.  Darden eventually finished the night as the leading scorer for the Pirates, scoring 22 points on 5-7 shooting, including 8-11 from the free throw line.

“Darden hits four threes in the first half,” said Chambers.  “If he had kept going, we would’ve been in big trouble.”

As a result of Darden’s scoring outburst, the Pirates kept pace with Penn State for the rest of the half, despite an eight minute long scoreless streak, and only trailed the Nittany Lions 33-25 going into the break.

Both teams found themselves in foul trouble early in the second half, committing a combined 12 team fouls in the first four minutes following the intermission.  Hampton took advantage of their early opportunities at the free throw line, and slowly chipped away at the Penn State lead.

About 10 minutes into the second half, Hampton took their first and only lead of the game on a fast break dunk from sophomore guard Breon Key that made it 43-41.  Key was the sixth man for Hampton this season, and he added another basket in the second half to finish with four points on the night.

Although Hampton took the lead, they could not hold it for long as Penn State went on a run of their own, culminating with a strong finish at the rim by D.J. Newbill, that gave the Nittany Lions a 53-45 lead, and sent the Bryce Jordan Center into a frenzy.

Newbill was a catalyst for the Nittany Lions, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the second half.  The Penn State leading-scorer finished the night 5-10 from the field and 8-10 from the free throw line, in just 23 minutes of play.

“He’s a big time player, and he’s playing like it,” said Chambers after the game.  “He’s wanted to play, he’s been great in the lockerroom, and I just felt like he was going to have a great game.”

Although the Nittany Lions faced some trouble in the final minutes of the contest, their lead was sustained thanks to clutch free throw shooting, highlighted by freshman guard Geno Thorpe, who was 4-5 from the charity stripe in the final minute of action.  Thorpe had 10 points in 25 minutes and added five rebounds to his totals.

“He’s tough, he’s athletic, he’s physical, he doesn’t back down, and he’s accepted his role of defending the best player on the other team,” said Chambers of Thorpe.  “He’s only going to continue to get better, and as we continue to develop his jump shot, his minutes and point production will increase.”

Chambers used a new substitution pattern in the contest to extend playing time for the younger core of the team, mainly Thorpe, fellow freshman guard Graham Woodward, and 7-foot sophomore Jordan Dickerson.  After a strong showing from the trio, the future of Penn State basketball looks bright.

“It gives me a look at how it’s going to be next year,” commented Newbill after the game.  “Those guys are already stepping up to the plate this year, making big plays and free throws down the stretch.  It gets me excited.”

Although the CBI does not carry the prestige of the NCAA Tournament, the win over Hampton was valuable postseason basketball experience for a young squad, as they prepare for a future post-Tim Frazier.

“I’m proud of our guys,” said Chambers.  “Everybody wants to be in the NCAA Tournament, and we’re not.  But I felt they came out and competed, and they tried to play Penn State basketball.”

Penn State will face Sienna in Albany, NY, in the CBI quarterfinals on Monday.

Uriah Tagle is a junior majoring in communication arts and sciences and economics.  To contact him, email uriahtagle@gmail.com