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March 19, 2014

Lions emerge with gritty first round win

The way Penn State's opening round matchup in the College Basketball Invitational against Hampton began, the visiting Pirates couldn't be blamed for looking a little shellshocked.

Giving up back-to-back 3s in quick succession to Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, respectively, plus a back-to-the-basket post-up bucket from Brandon Taylor, the Pirates fell behind 8-0 in the game's first 96 seconds and were forced into a timeout.

The comfort level wouldn't last.

Against a tenacious and athletic Hampton team, the Nittany Lions needed all 40 minutes of gritty basketball to emerge with a 69-65 win in front of 2,118 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center. The win advances Penn State to the second round of the CBI for a Monday night matchup at Siena.

"That's a very good team. They won 10 out of their last 12 and they're young. They're extremely athletic and quick, and they've got some shooters," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said, noting Hampton's key 5 of 9 3-point shooting effort in the first half. "I'm proud of our guys because it's not easy. Everybody knows they want to be in the NCAA Tournament, and we're not. But I felt like they came out and competed, and they tried to play hard, and they tried to play Penn State basketball. For that, I'm very proud of them."

Leading by as many as 10 points midway through the first half and again, twice in the second half, the Nittany Lions (16-17 overall, 6-12 B1G) found themselves consistently fending off a Pirate team (18-13 overall, 13-4 MEAC) that simply refused to back down.

In fact, according to Pirates' head coach Ed Joyner, the aggressiveness that had defined his team's season once again revealed itself Wednesday night.

"We like to make the game ugly. We're just not a pretty team," he said. "Our execution in most situations is to prove how ugly we can make the ballgame and how much of a defensive battle and struggle we can make the ballgame. I thought we were able to accomplish that."

Still, between the hot first half shooting of Brandon Taylor, the steady rhythm of both D.J. Newbill (19 points in 23 minutes) and Tim Frazier (10 points, 7 rebounds), and some clutch free throw shooting by true freshman guard Geno Thorpe (10 points, 6-6 FTs) down the stretch, the Nittany Lions were able to extend their season at least another game.

Holding the high-scoring Pirates to 65 points in the process, Chambers acknowledged the importance of his team's performance as he continues to look toward the future.

"It's a big step for us. I thought it was a big step tonight," he said. "They speed you up, they make you play fast, that's why for us to keep it in the 60s I thought was good for us. If it's about 75, getting into the 80s, we're not winning that game. That's their game. I like us in the 60s, maybe low 70s, that's about it."

That Hampton even made it to 65 points was a partial byproduct of Chambers' attention to next year's team. Though Frazier finished playing 38 minutes, he is the only non-returning player of the 10 who played for Penn State Wednesday night.

With big man Jordan Dickerson and guard John Johnson both earning starts, plus 10 minutes of action for Graham Woodward and another 25 for Thorpe, including key end of game situations, Chambers said he was happy to test the mettle of his up-and-coming contributors.

Said Chambers, "It was good for me to test the waters a little bit. Maybe a little too close, as usual, for comfort, but in the end we got it done.

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