Austin Lederman (@austinlederman)
In an opening night game played earlier on the calendar than any other in the previous 116 years of Penn State basketball, a Ross Travis tomahawk dunk punctuated a Nittany Lions victory over St. Francis (Pa.) in a close contest 65-58.
Penn State (1-0) closed this one out in the final five minutes, holding St. Francis (0-1) scoreless over that stretch until only a minute remained and the game was already out of reach.
“I played small, I put Ross at the five and we switched everything and I think it slowed them down,” Pat Chambers said of his defensive adjustments to disrupt the St. Francis offense.
After a sloppy first half in which both teams committed 11 turnovers and shot a combined 14-45 from the field, Penn State relied on getting to the free throw line to get easy points.
The Nittany Lions shot 28-of-32 from the charity stripe while St. Francis shot only 9-of-14, good for 64.3 percent.
“When you’re not making shots you gotta figure out what you’re doing well so at halftime im seeing that we’re shooting good free throws, so I just told them (Frazier and Newbill) to drive the basketball.”
Penn State struggled mightily from the three-point line, shooting 12.5 percent (3-of-24). St. Francis on the other hand, shot 36.8 percent (7-of-19) from beyond the arc.
“Sometimes it’s gonna be ugly and if you can win those ugly ones then you’re on the right path,” Chambers said. “Am I concerned about 3-for-24? Yes, because we had good shots–really, really good shots.”
In a homecoming for St. Francis’ first-year head coach Rob Krimmel, a State College native, his team got outmuscled and outworked beneath the boards. Penn State dominated the glass, outrebounding the Red Flash 38-22.
“We knew that they were gonna be more physical than we were and I think the rebounding numbers indicated that but I thought our guys battled for 40 minutes,” Krimmel said. “I think the difference for us tonight was we just didn’t execute in stretches.”
Newly-named Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 player Tim Frazier led the Nittany Lions with 23 points (17-of-18 FT), six assists, and four rebounds. It was his 19th career 20-point game and his 23rd straight game of double-figure scoring.
In his first collegiate game in over a year, D.J. Newbill had a big debut for the Nittany Lions scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Travis played a solid overall game scoring 10 points and recording nine rebounds (five offensive).
Sophomore guard Ollie Jackson, who scored a team-high 19 points and grabbed three rebounds, led the Red Flash. Umar Shannon, playing in his first game in 363 days after an ACL struggled from the field (2-of-12) to score nine points, but contributed with five rebounds and four assists.
“I thought Ollie did a great job,” Krimmel said. “He’s been consistent all preseason for us and is a kid we’re gonna rely on heavily to score the ball. Some of our sets that we run he’s really good off the ball, but we gotta do a better job finding a way to get him a few more shots.”
St. Francis’ bench outscored Penn State’s 22-5, but hustle plays from reserve guard Nick Colella helped spark the Nittany Lions down the stretch.
“Awesome, just awesome,” Chambers said. “That is Penn State basketball and obviously we’re not where I want us to be, it’s still early, but that is Penn State basketball. He didn’t shoot particularly well and I just want to see energy. I want to see effort and we saw energy, we saw effort. I think it inspired us and pushed us for those last three minutes, which is great and we needed it.”
Penn State’s next game will take place Thursday, Nov. 15 against No. 6 N.C. State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.