Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)
For just the third time in the history of the two schools, Penn State and La Salle will square off on the basketball court. The Nittany Lions will travel to the historic Palestra to meet the Explorers in a nationally televised matchup at 9 p.m. The Explorers (4-1) are coming off a 63-52 win at Rider, while Penn State (4-3), is trying to build on a 58-47 win over Penn at the Bryce Jordan Center
Penn State is still bouncing back from losing senior guard Tim Frazier to a season-ending achilles injury, as Frazier accounted for 58 percent of Penn State’s offense last season, which included 208 field goals and 198 assists.
D.J. Newbill has stepped into the role that was left behind by Frazier at point guard. The sophomore transfer from Southern Mississippi is using his new body to play 35 minutes a game, and has added 16.2 points per game since taking over the point guard role.
“We know D.J. is really good,” La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said. “We recruited him, we know he is having the good year. But we are not going to stop him at the detriment of not stopping other people. We just have to do our best against, and take a lot of pride in our match-ups against him. As a guard, he is going to get some ball screens and the big guys are going to have to help out on him.”
The Explorers have locked down on the defensive end of the floor since their their 81-74 loss at home to Central Connecticut State on November 18. Since that game, they have only given up an average of 59 points per game in their three contests.
“You have to do what you do well, and you don’t need to be changing your defensive principals from game to game because that is only going to confuse your kids,” Giannini added. “We just have to play in our defense the way we are taught, and put forth great effort.”
“Our defense is going to play a big role in the game,” junior guard Sam Mills said. “If we can stop their guards, and their big man, we will be in a position to win. Our defense has carried us all the way here so if we keep playing our pressure defense and keep making teams turn over the ball we will be in a good position.”
Tyreek Duren has been the offensive spark for the Explorers in the last three games, scoring an average of 19.3 points a game throughout the three-game win streak the Explorers are currently on. He is leading the team with 16.4 points per game on the season.
“Tyreek is going to always play well, every game,” Mills said. “He is a high caliber player. I think this year he is taking more of the offensive role, and for the last couple of games he has been pretty good at it.”
The game, which will be broadcast to over 80 million homes via NBC Sports Network, is being held at the Palestra. It is the first time the two teams will have met at the Cathedral of Basketball. The fact that the game is being held in one of the most historic arenas in college basketball history adds to the aura that surrounds the matchup.
“The Palestra has always been my favorite place in Philly to play,” Mills said. “We had Saint Joe’s last year and it was high intensity and high energy with a lot of people. Plus my family will be there, so it is always a good game at the Palestra and I enjoy it every year.”
“Penn State is a household name in college athletics,” Giannini said. “The game is in the best arena in certainly the east and maybe the country. It is a national TV game, so it doesn’t get much more exciting than this.”
There should be plenty of excitement on Wednesday night at the Palestra in the first game between the Explorers and the Nittany Lions in 26 years.