GAME NOTES: Despite finishing the regular season two games below .500, the Penn State Nittany Lions still find themselves hosting the Hampton Pirates in the first round of the Seventh Annual College Basketball Invitational at the Bryce Jordan Center tonight.
The 2013-14 campaign started off well enough for the Nittany Lions as they won six of their first seven outings, but the competition during that stretch was far from challenging. During the Big Ten portion of the schedule there were a few high points (two wins against Ohio State), but for the most part it was again a disappointment for PSU. The squad closed out the regular season with an 81-63 loss at Minnesota, and then followed with a 63-56 setback against the same Golden Gophers only days later during the conference tournament in Indianapolis.
As for the Pirates, members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, they rolled to seven straight wins and 10 in the final 11 games of the regular season. As the second seed in the MEAC Tournament, Hampton did not take the floor until the quarterfinals and was taken out by Coppin State, 83-77, putting an end to a promising run in the final weeks.
The winner of this first-ever meeting will go up against Siena in the quarterfinals next Monday night after the Saints defeated Stony Brook on Tuesday night in a first-round matchup at the Times Union Center in Albany by a score of 66-55.
Picked to finish fourth before the season began, the Pirates surprised more than a few people thanks to the efforts of several players, but particularly Du'Vaughn Maxwell who was named to the MEAC Preseason Second Team and eventually captured the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Maxwell not only finished second in the league in blocked shots with 91, he was also the team leader for Hampton in both scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg). However, as great as those numbers may be, the fact remains that Maxwell has been absolutely dreadful at the free-throw line (.507) and that has brought the entire team down to only 65.5 percent.
Lending a hand on offense for a program that is generating 73.2 ppg, Deron Powers is responsible for 11.6 ppg, followed by Brian Darden with his 10.0 ppg. Powers checks in with 122 assists, several of which surely went to setting up Darden and some of his 59 3-pointers for a squad that is making good on a mere 31.7 percent beyond the arc.
One of the top players in the Big Ten for a number of years, this season Tim Frazier was overshadowed by teammate D.J. Newbill who earned Second Team All- Big Ten honors, while Frazier carved out a spot on the Third Team. Newbill is putting up 17.8 ppg as he shoots 45.9 percent from the field, accounting for 4.9 rpg along the way as well. Frazier, a player who can do it all, checks in with 15.4 ppg and is stops with both 176 assists and 51 steals, but still those numbers do not compensate for the fact that he shot only 28.0 percent behind the 3-point line in 32 outings.
Unfortunately, beyond Frazier and Newbill, the latter having handed out 56 assists, no one else on the Penn State roster even has an average of more than one assist per outing. There have been times when the Nittany Lions have played a bit too physical for their own good, allowing opponents to visit the free-throw line an average of 26.3 times per contest where they've connected on 71.5 percent of their opportunities.
As long as Newbill and Frazier are leading the charge and can get some support from the rest of the PSU crew, this is definitely a win waiting to happen for the Nittany Lions.
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