Last night was a satisfying win for me and the five other Penn State alumni who care about the basketball team. The Lions rolled off their second straight conference win and in the process disposed of a desperate Ohio State squad that had won 80 straight games versus unranked opponents at home.
Add in that Ohio State had defeated Penn State 18 consecutive times, and Wednesday night was a time for celebration. Yes, this Buckeye team is reeling. They don't have Deshaun Thomas or Greg Oden or Mike Conley or Michael Redd. They still do have Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross, though, and that meant that victory would require a team effort.
Penn State would need to get more out of its role players than it had earlier in the season. No more Brandon Taylor building a new residence hall out of bricks. No more opponents getting to the rim at will. No more "same old Penn State." These are the players that stepped up and made sure that Ohio State's reign of terror over the Lions came to an end.
Okay, Newbill is much more than a role player for Penn State, but I had to include him here because of how awesome he was down the stretch in both the second half and overtime. As solid as the team's secondary pieces were on Wednesday night, the Lions won't improve this season without Newbill and Tim Frazier shouldering the scoring load. It was Newbill who took care of business in Columbus with some incredible clutch shooting.
With Penn State down by three and just over a minute remaining in regulation, Frazier found Newbill on a skip pass. Instead of driving the baseline that was left open by Craft's close-out, Newbill shot right over his opponent from beyond the arc to tie the game.
Later in the second half, when Penn State needed three more points to equalize, Newbill used a screen by Graham Woodward to bury yet another triple and force overtime. In the extra period, his crossover and pull-up jumper against Craft was a thing of beauty that brought game to an aesthetically pleasing end for Penn State fans. If Newbill can continue to keep such a level head near the end of games, the Lions can actually start to look forward to the close games that doomed them earlier in conference play.
Newbill's heroics wouldn't have been possible without some excellent play from Dickerson in the second half. The 7'0" sophomore came out of his shell versus Ohio State with five blocked shots and a few more than were altered. His help defense kept the Buckeyes at bay while Penn State crawled back from a 10-point deficit with six minutes remaining in regulation.
When PSU went on offense, Dickerson was more of a spectator because of his lack of a jump shot, but he still managed to have an impact with a pair of key offensive rebounds to keep Penn State possessions alive. One was kicked out for a Frazier jumper, and another he dunked in himself. The big man should see increased playing time in the future thanks to his major impact on defense in this game.
I already referenced Taylor's frustrating ability lay bricks in this story, but against Ohio State we saw more of the sharpshooter that gave Penn State hope back in November. Taylor had gone 6-for-27 from the field in his last four games, but then turned lethal from three-point range on Wednesday night. He knocked down 4-of-7 triples and even threw in some decent defense. He's still a liability against wings on the perimeter, but inside Taylor played bigger than his 6'7" frame and knocked away a couple of Buckeye shots.
With two guards like Newbill and Frazier that excel at getting to the rim, Penn State's other players need to be able to stretch the floor and knock down shots. Taylor is one guy who can give the Lions an extra weapon when he is functioning at a high level like he was in Columbus.
Another shot-maker that the Lions will depend on more and more in the future is the freshman Woodward. The guard from Minnesota has struggled with playing time during the conference season, but on Wednesday he got going early with a pair of three-pointers and Pat Chambers ended up sticking with him for 35 out of 45 minutes. Woodward rewarded the coach with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, even tossing in a baseline runner that he can use to keep defenders honest.
He's not an elite defender like the other Penn State freshman guard Geno Thrope, but Woodward's combination of ball handling and shooting should make him a solid four-year asset for Chambers and the Lions.