STATE COLLEGE – Tim Frazier said he felt jittery before Saturday night’s season-opening contest with Wagner. Sure, he had donned the blue and white earlier this year during an overseas exhibition tour, and the weekend before in another exhibition tilt.
Unlike those contests, this one under the Bryce Jordan Center lights counted. How he meshed with fellow backcourt mate D.J. Newbill would matter, and so would the final score.
And when it was all added up at the end, it equaled a victorious Penn State side.
Frazier played in his first regular season game since rupturing his Achilles tendon Nov. 18, 2012 in Puerto Rico, and the Penn State fifth-year senior recorded a double-double, and so did Newbill, to lead Penn State to a 74-62 win over the visiting Seahawks.
“It was great. I had so many jitters running through my veins. Last week was great, but it was still an exhibition,” Frazier said. “To see the fans, and to put that jersey on and step on the court when it really counts, ask [Newbill], I told him ‘I got too many jitters right now.’
“It just means so much to be able to step back n the court with these guys. I’ll never forget this day”
Though Frazier said he needed a talking to from Newbill, Lions forward Ross Travis, and Chambers before the game to calm his nerves, he started fine, dumping in 19 points – Newbill had 18 – to stake State to a 32-20 lead at the break. And it worked throughout, as he finished with a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds on 6-of-16 shooting on a night where he was complimented by Newbill’s 18 points and 11 boards.
But the Seahawks didn’t make it easy. Led by guard Kenneth Ortiz’s 20 points, Wagner clawed to within three with a 10-1 run to start the second half, and though they never got closer, they certainly hung around.
At times ill free throw shooting was a reason why, as the Lions made just 30 of 43 free shots compared to a 20 of 27 effort from Wagner. But it didn’t matter on this night, as after a free throw from Wagner guard Jay Harris pulled them within three, State went on a 4-0 run of its own to jump ahead seven, and eventually went on a 21-8 run to pull ahead by 13. The visitors wouldn’t get within nine of the lead the rest of the way.
“You’re never comfortable as coach. Obviously, you want to take eight and make that 11, make it 14. I just thing Wagner is that good. They got great guards, they got good bigs. They were going through the same thing we were: foul trouble,” Chambers said. “I thought it was a very difficult game to coach, to play in, and I was pleased obviously with the outcome, but also how they kept competing and battled.
“We got to be over at least 70 percent [at the free throw line] if we’re going to win some of these close games. I’m glad we got to the line that much, but for us to leave 13 points on that court, it’s too many points. Then you win by 16, 18, if you make a couple free throws.”
Wagner shot 29.9 percent from the field, and never got going from behind the arc, where it finished a woeful 2-for-23. Seahawk head coach Bashir Mason figured his team had to start clicking on offense, but it didn’t. And though Chambers thought his defense played well, Mason opined that his own team halted itself more than anything.
“I think it was us. First game, some nerves, some jitters from our guys, but I figured eventually the ball would start to fall, we just had to continue to defend,” Mason said. “Although we weren’t making shots, I never felt like we were really out of it because we were doing such a good job defensively.
Penn State finished with a 35 percent clip from the field, knocking down six of 16 threes, good for a 37.5 percent mark. The Lions also out-rebounded the visitors by a 47-44 count. They return to the court Wednesday when they host Bucknell at 7 p.m.
“My role is not going to change. I’m still being a leader, still going to be out there trying to help the team win, and will the team to win,” Newbill said. “Now that Tim’s back, I kind of got more help in the backcourt, but my role is not really going to change.
“It’ll be the same thing as last year, just going out there, playing hard, and doing anything the team needs to win.”
• A pair of freshman, Graham Woodward and Geno Thorpe, made their Penn State debuts. The guards finished with three and two points respectively.
• Frazier said a focus in practice this week will be free throws, and with good reason. He shot the most free throws, but also missed the most with a 12-of-17 night at the line, and five other Lions also missed a free throw.
• Forward Brandon Taylor finished with nine points, and fellow big man Ross Travis had eight while forward Donovan Jack chipped in four. But as Mason noted after the game, State didn’t have much of a post presence.
• Miami of Ohio transfer guard Allen Roberts also made his Penn State debut, scoring four points and grabbing seven rebounds in 25 minutes of playing time.
• Penn State got 10 points off the bench to Wagner’s 13, but equaled the Seahawks in points off turnovers. Wagner had a 10-7 edge on second-chance points, undoubtedly a boon in their 32-24 advantage with points in the paint.