STATE COLLEGE - Penn State's D.J. Newbill talked about his team's woeful first-half shooting during the postgame press conference and said, "It just wasn't our night." There was a pause and Newbill continued, "in the first half."
The Nittany Lions overcame a 16 percent shooting effort in the first half to rally past Bucknell and hand the Bison their first loss early Friday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center, 60-57.
Penn State shot a blistering 65 percent in the second half and turned a six-point halftime deficit into its third win of the season.
Penn State’s D.J. Newbill, right, dribbles around Bucknell’s Dom Hoffman on Friday in State College.
Bucknell (5-1) trailed by as many as seven in the second half, but had a chance to tie with 3.2 seconds remaining. A Cameron Ayers shot from the corner, however, never reached the rim and Penn State defeated the Bison for a 12th consecutive time.
"This is a real disappointing loss for us," said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen, whose team defeated Purdue earlier this season for its first victory against a school from the Big Ten. "I thought we were ready and prepared. Penn State played with great emotion, and we knew they would coming out after Tim Frazier being gone."
Few knew what to expect from Penn State in the 100th meeting between the two teams as it was playing a game for the first time since its senior leader Frazier went down for the season with a torn Achilles. A 1,000-point scorer in his career at Penn State, Frazier averaged over 16 points a game this year before injuring himself on Nov. 18 against Akron.
His absence showed in the first 20 minutes as Penn State (3-2) scored just 16 first-half points on 5 of 31 shooting.
"I had a great Knute Rockne at halftime," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. "I told them to keep shooting."
The Bison, though, led by only six points at the break because they turned the ball over 12 times.
"Instead of being up six at the half, we should have been up considerably more because, obviously, I don't know if they are going to play another half like that in terms of their offense execution in the first half," Paulsen said. "We needed to have a little separation, more than what we had."
Brandon Taylor proved early in the second half the Nittany Lions weren't going to struggle with their shot. The freshman, making his first career start, knocked down two 3-pointers within the first two minutes of the second half. He finished with a career-high 16 points, despite playing only 20 minutes due to foul trouble. Four of his six made field goals were 3-pointers.
"Fortunately he hit four of them and they were needed," Chambers said.
Bucknell held off Penn State and led 36-34 after Ayers rebounded his own miss and put it back with 11:53 remaining. The Bison never led again.
Jeremaine Marshall gave Penn State a 37-36 lead with the first of his two 3-pointers in the final 11 minutes. His second 3-pointer with 3:18 left and the shot clocking winding down hit nearly every inch of the rim before falling through for a 55-48 lead.
Marshall led the Lions with 17 points.
Bucknell closed to within a possession a couple of times during the last two-plus minutes, but Marshall made 3 of 4 foul shots over the final 14 seconds to provide enough of a cushion.
Penn State's defense held Mike Muscala, Bucknell's leading scorer, to 10 points - seven below his average. The Nittany Lions sent double teams from different directions at Bucknell's big man and limited him to just four shot attempts. The last time Muscala took just four shots in a game was a year ago against West Alabama, a game in which the center played just 16 minutes.
"We aren't going to win a game against a team from the Big Ten on the road with Mike taking four shots," Paulsen said.
Muscala did finish with 10 points and 12 rebounds - his fourth double-double in six games this year.
"We just tried to make it uncomfortable for him," said Chambers, who faced Muscala twice when he coached at Boston University. "We tried to outwork him and tried to beat him to his spots that he likes. We were fortunate. Jon Graham and the bigs did a real good job."
Bryson Johnson led the Bison with 18 points. Ayers added 14.