BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- It's taken 376 days for Penn State to truly believe it can be a team with attitude, composure and conviction. A confident team and, most importantly, a consistently winning one in a practical, realistic sense. And if the Nittany Lions are going to make moves within the Big Ten and win more than 12 games for the first time under Pat Chambers, it surely has to come this year.
It was on Nov. 18 of last season when PSU senior point guard Tim Frazier ripped up his left Achilles. He missed the rest of the season, of course. The NCAA granted Frazier, who has at times shown himself to be one of the more talented guards in college basketball, another season of competition. And in this, his fifth year of eligibility, Frazier's injury is proving to be the blessing in disguise for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions held off an athletic, quick, talented St. John's team Friday night at the Barclays Center, staving off a 15-point Red Storm comeback and winning 89-82 in overtime. Frazier finished with 29 points, six assists and five rebounds. Teammate D.J. Newbill contributed 25 points and eight rebounds. He played all 45 minutes.
Penn State is 6-1 for the first time in five seasons.
“It's a great win for our program,” Chambers said. “It's Nov. 29. We have a long way to go here, and the scasry thing is, these guys can get so much better. ... For the first time we went in the locker room, there was a little bit of celebration, but not a lot. Not a lot. We expect to win games now."
As a team, Penn State scored nearly 1.3 points per possession and only committed four turnovers, a 5.5 percent turnover rate. Chambers' team is now turning the ball over on 12 percent of its possessions, making it one of the 10 best teams nationally in protecting the basketball. This is significant, again, because of who Penn State beat Friday. No doubt about it that St. John's still has some ways to go before its playing to its potential, but the Johnnies were ferocious and fast and active on Friday. The Lions looked every bit their athletic equal.
Most teams would've given the ball up at least 10 times, let alone the four Frazier and Co. surrendered.
"I didn't even know that," Frazier said when I brought up the four turnovers. "I've seen certain games that I've had four myself."
The fact Frazier was unaware speaks to the expectation Chambers has instilled in the program. Taking care of the ball is one of pillars for winners in hoops. To do this and not be shocked by the number speaks to confidence and predetermined expectations, even against one of the most talented young teams in the nation.
"We worked on it long and hard," said Chambers, "and these guys, you see what they're doing with it now. And you can see how it helps them against a long, rangy, athletic team.”
“Their athletic ability and speed they have is top notch," Frazier said. "It didn't even catch us by surprise, but they even ran on makes.”
St. John's rallied in large part because of the 11 3-pointers it made in the game, six of which came in the second half. Near the end of regulation, the game was the most in doubt it'd be all night. JaKarr Sampson blocked Frazier's shot with 12 seconds to go, a 73-72 St. John's lead. But then Sampson missed one of two free throws, and on the ensuing possession, Sampson fouled Frazier on a 3-point attempt with 6.1 to go. Frazier gave PSU the lead back -- but then a blocking foul by Ross Travis gave St. John's a chance to win it with two D'Angelo Harrison free throws. He only sunk one, and so the game went to overtime.
In OT, it was mostly Frazier. An intentional foul with 22.3 left in overtime by St. John's Max Hooper on Frazier sealed it.
“I was trying to take a foul and feel like we were two trains traveling in opposite directions," Hooper said. “I guess I hit him in the face. I'm not really sure what happened to be honest.”
St. John's coach Steve Lavin said this was the best his 4-2 team has played all season.
“Sometimes you make progress and find out something in loss,” Lavin said.
Both teams learned a little more Friday. That should happen in most games in November. But the strides Penn State has made are evident, and with the cast around Frazier, Chambers is finally worth taking seriously when he says this team shouldn't be in the Big Ten basement.