Nittany Lions blow 20-point lead in losing return to Rec Hall

STATE COLLEGE – Princeton rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit on Saturday to turn Penn State’s “Return to Rec” into a train wreck for the Nittany Lions.

Will Barrett scored 15 of his team-high 24 points in the final 6:34 of regulation and overtime to lead Princeton to an improbable 81-79 overtime comeback win over Penn State.

“We just wanted to keep battling bit by bit, keep chipping away at that lead. We started making shots and that’s huge, it’s kind of contagious,” Princeton guard T.J. Bray said. “Will had however many in a row there. Once they start going down, everything gets a little easier.”

The game was coined as “Return to Rec” because the Nittany Lions (8-4) returned to their venerable old arena, Rec Hall, instead of the newer Bryce Jordan Center, which they moved to in 1996.

The Tigers (8-1) placed four other players in double figures. Hans Brase contributed 14, Spencer Weisz 13 and Bray and Ben Hazel scored 11 each.

For Penn State, guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill carried the scoring load with 24 points each. Ross Travis added 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

Princeton, after struggling from the field all game, caught fire down the stretch and outscored the Nittany Lions 24-6 in the final 6:34 to send the game into overtime.

Tigers coach Mitch Henderson switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense midway through the second half and it seemed to frustrate a Penn State offense that, until then, could do little wrong.

“It was really kind of forced on us. We were looking for something different. We tried a lot of different ways to guard them. It slowed down what was an attack. We got a couple turnovers. It gave us some confidence. I think we got it to 10 and I felt that was the momentum,” Henderson said.

Penn State coach Patrick Chambers pointed to three factors that contributed to his team’s meltdown.

“(We commit) 20 turnovers when you’re averaging nine. I just think they tried to do too much,” he said. “Gotta make your free throws and keep playing defense. We were definitely on our heels.”

Barrett fueled the comeback, making 4-of-4 3-pointers in the final 6:17 of the game. His fourth 3-pointer pulled Princeton to within 64-61 with less than 40 seconds to go.

“You gotta know who you are. We’ve got confident shooters. I thought Will Barrett was just terrific, staying with what he does,” Henderson said.

With 16.5 seconds to go, Bray missed the second of two free throws. Weisz emerged from a wild scramble for the rebound just outside of the paint. He drove to the basket, was fouled and made both free throws to tie the game at 66.

Penn State couldn’t convert a last-second Frazier 3-point shot and the game went to overtime.

“We let them get hot. We stopped communicating like we did in the first half,” Penn State’s Newbill said. “I think a lot of the turnovers was us being careless with the basketball. It’s disappointing. We missed a great opportunity. We had everything we wanted.”

In overtime, Brase hit a short jumper and Barrett another 3 to give Princeton a 71-66 lead.

Bray made a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 75-69 with 1:25 left. But the Nittany Lions battled back from there. Newbill scored 6 points in the final 30 seconds to keep Penn State within striking distance.

Bray missed the second of two free throws with 3.7 seconds left and Penn State called timeout to set up a last-ditch play.

Allen Roberts inbounded under Princeton’s basket and threw a nearly court-length pass that Frazier caught and then drove to the basket. His layout was a bit strong, hitting the backboard and rim and bounding away as time expired.

“If we saw single coverage in the back, that was exactly what I wanted,” Chambers said. “It’s unfortunate it comes down to that. It’s going to weigh on him, the missed free throw and missed layup. I feel for him.”

Frazier was asked if he thought he was fouled on the final play of overtime. He refused to use that as an excuse.

“I don’t think so. That’s how the game goes,” the fifth-year senior said. “Even if I did get fouled . I still should have made the shot.”


Koon 2-5 2-3 6, Barrett 8-13 2-2 24, Brase 6-12 1-1 14, Bray 1-10 9-12 11, Hazel 4-13 0-2 11, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Weisz 4-7 5-6 13, Clement 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-62 19-26 81.

PENN ST. (8-4)

Jack 1-3 0-0 2, Taylor 2-8 4-4 9, Travis 6-8 2-4 15, Newbill 11-19 2-2 24, Frazier 7-16 8-11 24, Woodward 1-2 0-0 2, Roberts 0-1 0-0 0, Thorpe 0-0 1-2 1, Wisniewski 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-58 17-23 79.

Halftime-Penn St. 35-23. End Of Regulation-Tied 66. 3-Point Goals-Princeton 10-32 (Barrett 6-11, Hazel 3-10, Brase 1-3, Koon 0-1, Weisz 0-2, Bray 0-5), Penn St. 4-14 (Frazier 2-4, Travis 1-1, Taylor 1-4, Woodward 0-1, Jack 0-1, Roberts 0-1, Newbill 0-2). Fouled Out-Brase, Jack. Rebounds-Princeton 22 (Bray 6), Penn St. 44 (Travis 12). Assists-Princeton 17 (Bray 13), Penn St. 10 (Frazier 6). Total Fouls-Princeton 18, Penn St. 20. A-6,188.