UNIVERSITY PARK – After Penn State quickly jumped out to an 8-0 lead during the game’s first two minutes to put Hampton on its heels, the visiting Pirates counter-punched Penn State hard the next 38 minutes until the final horn sounded.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers wanted to see how the younger players handled late-game postseason basketball, and they did just that.
Freshman guard Geno Thorpe made four free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds to secure the win for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions knocked off Hampton 69-65 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“It gives me a look at how it’s going to be next year,” Penn State guard D.J. Newbill said. “With Tim (Frazier) going, and those guys really stepping up to the plate and making big plays and big free throws down the stretch. It gets me excited. Those guys are really coming into their own.”
Newbill finished with a team-high 19 points to lead the Nittany Lions (16-17) to their first postseason win of any kind since a 61-48 Big Ten tournament win over Michigan State on March 12, 2011.
“(Newbill) is a big time player and he’s playing like it,” Chambers said. “His leadership has been great ever since we got into this tournament. We were 10 points better when he was out there, to put a number on it. They have to focus on him and it opens up things for Brandon Taylor, who scored 14 points.”
Frazier, Newbill and Brandon Taylor scored quickly in succession and Penn State took an 8-0 lead just a minute and 47 seconds into the contest, forcing a quick Hampton timeout.
Jervon Pressley briefly stopped the bleeding with 17:05 left in the opening half when he drove and converted to put the Pirates on the board.
Hampton’s issues were compounded when Mid Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Da’Vaughn Maxwell picked up his second foul with 16:09 left in the first half.
“It was a foul thing,” Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. said, clarifying that it wasn’t a lingering foot injury suffered in the MEAC tournament that sent Maxwell to the bench. “He got in foul trouble, and the other kids stepped up.”
After Ross Travis made two free throws to put the Nittany Lions up 10-2, Brian Darden hit consecutive 3-pointers to draw Hampton to 10-8.
Taylor answered with back-to-back threes of his own to put Penn State back up 18-8.
Darden ripped off six more points on three free throws and another trifecta, which was followed by Ramon Mercado’s three to cut Penn State’s lead down to 21-20 with 9:49 to play in the half.
Darden’s fourth three gave him 15 points in the first ten minutes of the game before he joined Maxwell on bench with his second foul.
Penn State went on a 7-0 run after Emmanuel Okoroba made a free throw to cut the Nittany Lions’ lead to 23-21.
Hampton missed three free throws over the 5:26 scoreless stretch before Deron Powers made consecutive buckets to make it 30-25 with 1:46 left in the half.
Taylor led the way for Penn State in the first half with 10 points and five rebounds while Newbill added eight.
Darden didn’t score the rest of the half after returning, but his 4-for-4 from beyond the arc accounted for 12 of his 15 first-half points, which led all scorers.
Penn State turned the ball over seven times in the first, leading to seven Hampton points.
Newbill opened up the scoring for Penn State in the second half when he made both free throws after he was fouled on a drive.
The Pirates’ leading scorer, Maxwell scored his first points of the game with 16:49 left in the second half when he hit both free throws after being fouled by Penn State’s Jordan Dickerson.
Travis answered a Maxwell jumper with one of his own to stretch the PSU lead back to six points with 14:04 left in the game.
Okoroba made a jumper with 12 minutes left in the game to tie the game for the first time at 41-41.
Chambers immediately called a timeout for Penn State in response to the 6-0 Hampton run.
The timeout didn’t pay short-term dividends for the Nittany Lions, as Breon Key’s transition dunk gave Hampton its first lead of the night at 43-41 with 11 minutes to play.
Newbill quickly answered for Penn State to even it back up then Frazier, the graduate student, made some veteran plays for the Lions.
Frazier scored four straight then hit Newbill with a bounce pass in transition to extended the Lions’ lead to 53-45 with 6:04 to play in the game, pushing it in Penn State’s direction for good.
“I think this was a great stepping stone for us heading into next year with eight or nine sophomores returning next year,” Joyner said. “We wanted postseason experience for our guys. We felt like they deserved another chance to play.”
After 15 first-half points, Darden, who finished with a game-high 22 points, was held scoreless for the first 14-plus minutes of the closing half.
Taylor finished with 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds, helping Penn State to a 42-18 edge on the boards.
Powers cut the Penn State lead to as little as two points with six seconds to play at 67-65, but Thorpe made two more free throws with 4.3 seconds left to cement the hard-fought 69-65 win
“They did a good job at their scheme,” Frazier said. “They fought us all the way to the end. Praise goes to their coaches and their players. It was a great team.”
On Monday, Penn State will visit Siena (16-17), who dropped Stony Brook 66-55 in the CBI opener Tuesday night.