Johnson Shines in Penn State Debut

The transfer from Pitt helped the Nittany Lions wrap up their non-con slate with a win over Mount St. Mary's at the Bryce Jordan Center Sunday.

Penn State coach Pat Chambers received an early Christmas gift at the Jordan Center Sunday. It came in the form of Pitt transfer John Johnson, the guard who became eligible after PSU's fall semester.

The timing could not have been better, as Johnson came off the bench to score a team-high 20 points in the Nittany Lions' 92-82 win over Mount St. Mary's to close out the non-conference schedule.

The game also featured the Penn State debut of SMU transfer Jordan Dickerson, though the 7-footer was limited to a pair of blocks in eight minutes. That was in part due to his own dehydration and in part because Chambers went with a four-guard attack most of the second half.

With Johnson, D.J. Newbill (18 points) and Tim Frazier (15) leading the way, Penn State exploded for 55 points after intermission.

“I think Santa's given us everything; we're blessed,” a jolly Chambers said afterward. “We're deep. We have good guards. We just got a big (man).”

The new weapons -- especially the athletic, physical Johnson -- should make a Nittany Lion outfit that was already expected to be much-improved in the Big Ten even more dangerous. Penn State will have a chance to prove itself in that regard soon enough, as conference play opens when No. 5 Michigan State visits the BJC on New Year's Eve (5 p.m.).

Johnson sure came in handy against the scrappy Mountaineers (3-8). He was tentative after coming off the bench early in the game, and did not hit a bucket until 7:22 remained in the first half. But he looked completely comfortable in the second half, when he scored 15 of his 20 points. He slashed through the lane and also hit PSU's only two 3-pointers of the game.

“It was good to get out on the court after sitting out for a year,” Johnson said.

Johnson logged 20 minutes in all, as Chambers used the four-guard look for most of the final half to counter Mount St. Mary's deadly 3-point shooting. The Mountaineers made 9 of 16 triples in the opening stanza, when they led by as many as 11 points.

“They were on fire,” Chambers said. “It happens. I don't know what to tell you.”

It brought back ugly memories of PSU's last game, against Princeton at Rec Hall Dec. 14. The Lions blew a 20-point lead and lost in overtime thanks in part to the Tigers' eight treys after the break.

“We were stewing for a solid week,” Chambers said.

“We had that bitter taste in our mouths,” added Newbill, who added 18 for PSU vs. the Mount (3-8).

They used that as motivation when trailing 46-37 at halftime Sunday. The message in the locker room was to attack.

“Coach said, 'You need to play harder,' ” Newbill said.

Getting back into it was a snap. The Lions forced the action all over the floor and the Mountaineers panicked -- at least initially. Less than four minutes into the second half, the lead was down to 51-50 after Newbill made a layup.

With 3-pointers not falling (State missed its first six), PSU's athletes went hard to the rim again and again. Despite using four guards most of the second half, the Lions finished the game with 62 points in the paint (to MSM's 26). Penn State went to the free throw line 30 times, making 24.

Going small also helped PSU shut down the Mountaineers' 3-point shooting. They attempted only 10 in the second half, making three. The Mount made one triple in the last 14:56 of the game.

“They went small,” 31-year-old MSM coach Jamion Christian said. “… When they go to that lineup, they can switch (on) everything.”

And yet the score stayed tight deep into the game. It was tied 80-80 at the final media timeout, before Penn State came out playing with even more intensity. Drives and put-backs led to the deciding 12-2 run, as the Mount managed exactly one rebound in the final four minutes.

“That was the first time we closed out a game that well,” Newbill said.

In doing so, Penn State finished the non-con schedule at 9-4, its most pre-Big Ten wins since the 2010-11 season. Even with the mighty Spartans looming, Chambers was still in the holiday spirit about that.

“I like the direction we're headed,” he said. “Santa's put us on that sleigh.”


SHORT SHOTS

• Chambers said Dickerson became a bit dehydrated because he was so amped up about playing.

Ross Travis (14) and Brandon Taylor (10) were also in doubles. Donovan Jack finished with eight, so Penn State just missed having six men in double figures.

• Taylor scored all 10 of his points in the first half.

Allen Roberts (five points and four rebounds in 16 minutes) and rookie Geno Thorpe (two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes) were also in the backcourt rotation for Chambers.

• Julian Norfleet led the Mount with 22.

• MSM lost at Michigan State 98-65 in late November.


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