Young Guards Help Lions Down Dukes

Thorpe's career game, Garner's shooting key as Penn State hoops matches its best start since 2000-01.

The leading scorer in the Big Ten and the top point producer in Penn State's first nine games of the season, senior D.J. Newbill was bound to have an off night sooner or later.

It occurred against Duquesne at the Jordan Center Wednesday, as he was held to 11 points (a dozen below his average) on 5 of 17 shooting. That just so happened to coincide with dud offensive efforts from starting forwards Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis, who combined to post the old goose egg.

But the too-close-for comfort Nittany Lions were bailed out by the cross-state guard tandem of Geno Thorpe and Shep Garner, and earned another tight win (64-62) to improve to 9-1 on the season.

It is Penn State's best start since the 2000-01 season.

“When our top guy is struggling a little bit, it's refreshing to know we can go to some other guys,” Chambers said. “… It encouraging. We rely on him every game, and for once we picked him up.”

Thorpe, a Pittsburgh native, tallied a game- and career-high 19 points against his hometown team, including momentum-swinging plays in both halves. All of this in 28 minutes off the bench for the sophomore.

Garner, a freshman from just outside Philadelphia, was the only PSU player to hit consistently from long range against the Dukes' 2-3 zone, making 3 of 8 3-pointers and finishing with 13 points.

“It's a team effort,” Thorpe said. “So we all had to pick it up as a unit. Yeah, D.J. was struggling today. We all had to pick it up.”

The game ended with both teams unable to score in the clutch.

“It turned into a rock fight there,” Dukes coach Jim Ferry said.

Up 64-62 and with possession in the final minute, PSU allowed 20 seconds to melt off the clock before calling a timeout with 34 seconds showing. The game plan? Give Newbill the ball.

His drive to the bucket was no good. The rebound was knocked out of bounds and PSU maintained possession, but with only :03 left on the shot clock it had to settle for a long jumper by Taylor. He missed.

Duquesne (3-3) rebounded with 20 seconds to go. But the Dukes seemed out of sorts with a chance to go for the tie or win. As the clock wound down, guard Micah Mason came off a screen but was met by Travis. Mason's last-second attempt at the game-winning 3-pointer was not close.

“We dodged a bullet, but that's what you expect when you play a team from Pittsburgh,” Chambers said.

It is also what you expect from Penn State, which has been dodging bullets all season. Its six straight wins heading into this game were by an average margin of four points.

This one looked like it might be a bit easier when PSU went up 42-32 early in the second half after Thorpe scored four straight (he got the start in the half). But the Dukes methodically worked their way back in it, as the Lions failed to consistently score against their zone.

State's last six points in the game came from the free throw line, including four by forward Donovan Jack (11 points) and two by Thorpe.

“The close games are helping us be more comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” Garner said. “When we get in a game like that, we don't panic. We just find ways to win.”

Added Thorpe: “Retweet.”

Newbill had his worst half of the season to open the game, going 1 of 8 for two points to go along with a pair of turnovers in 18 minutes. And Taylor was limited to five minutes and no points after picking up two quick fouls.

But the Lions never trailed by more than four, and thanks to a personal five-point spurt by Thorpe took the lead late in the period and actually led, 29-28, at the break. Included was a steal and breakaway dunk (shown above) that gave PSU a 25-24 advantage it would never surrender.

Duquesne played a 2-3 zone for most of the first 20 minutes, daring the Lions to beat them from the arc. But beyond Garner, who hit two of three from deep, the rest of the Lions went a collective 0 of 5 on 3-pointers in the half. That included three misses by Newbill and an airball by redshirt frosh Payton Banks.

Even at 9-1, Chambers said his team has room to grow. That this affair was so tight down the stretch was proof of that.

“Once you get somebody down, you've got to bury them,” he said. “We're not there yet.”

High on Geno

Thorpe's previous career high was 14, in a loss to Charlotte earlier this year. He came into this game averaging 8.1 points. But his play did not surprise Ferry.

“Geno is aggressive,” the coach said. “He's done a really good job figuring out his role. He's an energy guy.”

Quick Hitters

This marked the first time this season Newbill did not at least tie for the team lead in scoring. … Guard Jordan Stevens led the Dukes with 18 off the bench. … This is the first time PSU has won seven straight games since 2007-08. … Thorpe also had four rebounds, all of them on the offensive end.

Up Next …

…for Penn State is a Sunday home game with George Washington. It tips at noon and can be seen on ESPN3.

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