ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) It was just over a year ago – Dec. 14, 2013 to be exact – that Penn State blew a 56-36 lead with 8:36 to play and lost to Princeton 81-79 in overtime.
The lesson from that game was put to use on Saturday when the Nittany Lions faced Drexel at the neutral PPL Center.
With D.J. Newbill scoring 20 points and Brandon Taylor adding 14 with 11 rebounds, Penn State won its ninth-straight game 73-68 after squandering most of a 20-point lead.
The Nittany Lions (11-1) made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to hold off the Dragons (2-8), who lost their fourth straight.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers wasn’t worried about deja vu.
”As a head coach, I’ve learned from my mistakes,” Chambers said. ”And I wasn’t going to let that happen. I was gonna use my timeouts and I was gonna get the ball in the right hands and I was gonna (substitute) offense-defense. We have a bag full of positive plays that are gonna help finish the game out.”
Penn State led 58-38 on a Newbill jumper with 7:23 left before Drexel made a final run. Tavon Allen hit the first of two-straight 3-pointers at 6:58 and Freddie Wilson followed with a third to fuel a 15-0 run that cut it to 58-53 with 4:13 left.
The Dragons played frantically, forcing six PSU turnovers in eight possessions after the Lions had only six turnovers in the first 33 minutes.
Newbill hit two free throws, Donovon Jack had a tip-in and the Dragons never got closer until a 3 by Rashann London with 1 second left.
”We can’t play that way a whole game because we just don’t have enough people,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. ”But we changed the pace and I give my guys credit. They kept fighting.”
Allen had 15 points for Drexel with Sammy Mojica adding 14 off the bench, Damion Lee getting 13 and Mohamed Bah 10.
Drexel trailed 20-19 after a Bah jumper with 6:48 to go in the first half but Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner knocked down consecutive 3-pointers and after a Drexel basket, Taylor and Newbill scored for a 30-21 lead 4:53 before halftime.
The Nittany Lions led 36-28 at the break.
The Dragons got within 40-35 early in the second half before a Newbill layup and four free throws pushed started a 14-1 run that gave Penn State a 55-36 lead with nine minutes left.
Penn State finished 20 of 27 from the foul line to 12 of 19 for the Dragons, who shot 40 percent from the field.
Drexel: Damion Lee was averaging 20.7 points, the lone Dragon to average in double figures, and has reached double-digits in nine games. However, he didn’t get his 13 points until he made a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left and a layup 10 seconds later. Lee was 3 of 15 from the field, 2 of 12 behind the arc. He only played five games last year before a season-ending knee injury.
Penn State: PSU was the home team for the game in Allentown, which is closer to Philadelphia than to State College. … D.J. Newbill has now scored at least 20 points seven times this season. … The Lions are 4-0 against the Dragons but the last meeting was 18 years ago, when John Amaechi had his first 20-point game in a 73-64 win. … The teams will play in Philadelphia’s famed Palestra next December.
Both Drexel coach Bruiser Flint and Penn State’s Patrick Chambers played at Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia. Flint graduated in 1983, Chambers in ’89. … Nittany Lion Shep Garner was a high school teammate of Drexel’s Rashann London at Roman Catholic in Philly and played together for six years overall. This was their first time on opposite benches.
Penn State’s 11 wins matches the school record for wins before conference play. The Nittany Lions had 11 wins in 2008-09 before Big Ten play began and they have one more nonconference game before going to Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve. PSU started 13-0 in 1995-96 and went on to make the NCAA tournament.
Drexel is home against Iona on Dec. 28.
Penn State hosts Dartmouth on Monday