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December 22, 2013

Lions overcome deficit for 92-82 win

Patrick Chambers looked at the post-game stat sheet and saw numbers he couldn't believe.

Twelve 3-pointers surrendered, 82 points given up, and just two made shots from beyond the arc by his Nittany Lions. Still, 92-82 winners against Mount St. Mary's at the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday afternoon, the method in which his team improved to 9-4 to close out the non-conference schedule couldn't be argued with.

"These stats are amazing to me. They're amazing. They made 12 threes, we only made two. It's just amazing," he said. "But I felt like we were doing a good job getting to the rim and getting ourselves to the foul line, so we had to continue doing that."

They did.

Trailing 46-37 in the first half, the Nittany Lions outscored the feisty Mountaineers in the second half, 55-36, by driving to the lane, connecting on nearly 60 percent of their shots to pull away for the win.

Connecting on 24 of 30 shots from the foul line, the Nittany Lions added an incredible 62 points in the paint with five players scoring in double-figures.

Most conspicuously, more than a year since he transferred from Pitt, guard John Johnson finally made his first appearance with the Nittany Lions and didn't disappoint.

Scoring his first bucket at the 7:22 mark in the first half - coming off fellow transfer Jordan Dickerson's first stat, a blocked shot - Johnson went on to pour in a team-high 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting from the floor. Adding a pair of nicely-timed 3-pointers to his opening line, Johnson helped turn around the Nittany Lions' fortunes while easing the tension that builds from being out of the game for so long.

"It just feels good to be back on the court after sitting out almost a year and a half. It just feels good to get back on the court," the soft-spoken Johnson said afterward. "I was just focused on playing defense and getting stops. Once I heard some of the people that came up for me were cheering and yelling for me, that just gave me a lot of confidence.

"I had a lot of family and friends that came up to watch the game. It means a lot that I have a support system that can travel a couple of hours just to watch me play. It just gives me confidence."

Said D.J. Newbill (18 points, 6 rebounds), "I think it took a lot of weight off our shoulders. I think John did a great job coming in, a spark off the bench. It's exactly what we needed him to do. It was good for him to find open lanes to drive and he was able to make some shots. I think it just makes us that much more deeper on the offensive end."

Coming off a disappointing overtime loss to Princeton a week ago at Rec Hall, Chambers and his players acknowledged that there was plenty of residual bitterness still lingering.

Admittedly disjointed in the first half, Mount St. Mary's nailed nine of its 12 3-pointers, despite a variety of defensive strategies to combat the Mountaineers' efforts. But, in immediately taking a 5-0 run to open the second half and eventually cutting the visitors' lead to 51-50 by the 16:55 mark, the Nittany Lions persevered.

"Going into the game and all week in practice, we had that bitter taste in our mouth from losing that game. But, we learned from it, we moved forward," Newbill said. "We were down in this game, but we stuck with it. We were down 11 at the most and coach said we'd never been down by that much and came back to win the game. I think that showed how much better we got since the last loss and it shows our heart and how we're a collective group."

Enjoying more than a week of off time from the hardwood for the Christmas holiday, the Nittany Lions will return to practice after a day off Monday to get ready for the oncoming Big Ten schedule, beginning New Year's Eve for a 5 p.m. showdown against Michigan State.

Having a much-needed win in their pockets, Chambers said this was the perfect way to start the "second season."

"It was huge because after Princeton, you want to get the bad taste out of your mouth. You're up 20 and you lose, you want to just get back," he said, noting the unusually long off time between last Saturday's game and Sunday's. "We were stewing for a solid week. The practices were great and these guys were energetic before the game, but I knew Mount St. Mary's, they'd been off for a couple of weeks, they got some guys healthy, they have good shooters, he's a good young coach and doing some great things there, but I'm glad we got this win before the Big Ten starts - the new season, the second season, so to speak."




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