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March 20, 2014
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the Penn State men's basketball team received its invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational, head coach Patrick Chambers knew full well how much value his team could get from playing in the tournament.
As the coach of Boston in 2010, Chambers guided the Terriers to the CBI semifinals and saw the dividends pay off with an NCAA Tournament berth the following season. That's why when the Nittany Lions got the same opportunity, Chambers saw it as a chance not only for them to compete, but also for his players to gain valuable experience and continue to develop.
"For the last two years (the players) have had off for two weeks and then we started our spring workouts," Chambers. "Now, we practiced and we're preparing for the future. Let's get a taste of the postseason and see what it's like because it can only help us."
Going up against Hampton in the program's first postseason action since making the NCAA Tournament in 2011, the Nittany Lions played the epitome of team basketball, getting nine players double-digit minutes in a 69-65 victory.
While the team's star guard duo of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill played as prominent a role as ever, Penn State also got key performances from the likes of sophomore center Jordan Dickerson, sophomore forward Brandon Taylor, and freshman guard Geno Thorpe.
"I think (our younger guys) stepped up to the challenge," Chambers said. "I think you're getting a taste of the future."
Taylor provided the Lions with a spark throughout the entire first half, recording 10 points and five rebounds in the opening period, including back-to-back 3-pointers in a 31-second span to give the Lions an 18-8 lead at the 12:28 mark.
The power forward would finish the game with 14 points and nine rebounds, and along with Dickerson (six), Frazier (seven), and junior forward Ross Travis (eight), helped the Nittany Lions outrebound the Pirates by a 42-18 margin.
"Brandon Taylor's production was great," Chambers said. "He got hot early, made his free throws and he's a very good foul shooter."
The Pirates would fight back, cutting Penn State's lead to 30-25 with 1:47 remaining in the first half behind the shooting of sophomore guard Brian Darden, who went 4-for-4 from behind the arc for 15 points in the first half. But another young Nittany Lion stepped up, this time it was freshman guard Graham Woodward, who nailed a 3-pointer that gave the Blue and White a 33-25 halftime lead.
Although Hampton would continue to claw back, even taking a 43-41 lead at the 11:17 mark in the second half, Penn State quickly regrouped, going on a 14-4 run over the next 5:27, highlighted by a slam dunk by Newbill at the 6:19 mark off a Frazier pass following a block by Taylor that showcased the Nittany Lion cohesion on the court.
"That gives me a look of how we're going to be next year, seeing (young) guys making big plays down the stretch," Newbill said. "Those guys are really coming into their own."
One guy who clearly came into his own against the Pirates was Thorpe, who in 25 minutes scored 10 points and added five rebounds, while going 6-6 from the free throw line, including four foul shots coming in the final 22 seconds to ice the game.
Although Frazier filled the stat sheet as usual with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and Newbill was remarkably efficient, tallying 19 points in just 23 minutes, it was Thorpe's relentless defense and clutch shooting that stood out the most to Chambers.
"He's tough, he's athletic and physical, and he doesn't back down," Chambers said. "He's accepted his role of defending the best player on the other team and we need that type of toughness. He's only going to continue to get better."
Coming off of a tough 63-56 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, Chambers was glad to see his players embrace the opportunity of playing in the CBI.
However long the postseason lasts for the Nittany Lions, Chambers is confident that they will reap the benefits of the experience moving forward.
"I'm proud of our guys because it's not easy and everybody knows they want to be in the NCAA Tournament," Chambers said. "They came out and competed and played Penn State basketball and that is a big step for us."