STATE COLLEGE – With leading scorer and unequivocal leader Tim Frazier out for the remainder of the season, Penn State coach Pat Chambers was looking for a new go-to shooter.
It took a half the game against Bucknell on Friday, but the Nittany Lions found a pair of hot hands in Jermaine Marshall and Brandon Taylor. Penn State won 60-57, handing the Bison their first loss of the season.
“I think you see the direction we’re headed,” said Chambers. “These kids believe in one another. They have faith in one another, where I think all around us everyone wanted to mail it in. We didn’t feel that way. We felt like we could compete, we could play.”
Marshall scored 17 points while sharing point guard duties with sophomore D.J. Newbill, and Taylor, a freshman forward, added a career-high 16. It was the first game for Penn State (3-2) without Frazier at guard. The preseason All-Big Ten and national Player of the Year candidate ruptured his Achilles tendon less than a week ago.
Penn State took its first lead of the game at the 10:57 mark of the second half. The Nittany Lions outscored Bucknell 44-35 in the second half after the Bison (5-1) took a 22-16 lead into the break.
Penn State’s defense buckled down late in the game as Bucknell tried to mount a comeback. A Cameron Ayers 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining cut the Nittany Lions’ lead to two, then Marshall made the first of two free throws with 7 seconds left.
Ayers, a junior guard, couldn’t get an open look out of a timeout on the final play and missed a 3 from the corner as time expired.
“I thought these guys did a really good job of understanding and managing the game plan,” said Chambers. “That’s what we did today.”
Senior guard Bryson Johnson led Bucknell with 18 points and center Mike Muscala collected 12 boards to go with 10 points.
After struggling mightily on the offensive end in the first half, Penn State found its shooting touch after halftime. The Nittany Lions were just 5 of 31 from the floor in the first half, including 2 of 13 from 3-point territory, compared to 17-of-26 shooting after the break.
“I don’t know that they’re going to play another half like that in terms of their execution offensively in the first half,” said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen. “You need to have a little bit more separation, more than what we had.”
Taylor got Penn State started with a pair of 3s on two of its first three possessions in the second half. Marshall began to heat up later in the period while catching a couple of lucky bounces in the process.
The redshirt junior tossed up a 3 as the shot clock expired with a little more than 3 minutes remaining. The ball clanked off the rim three times before falling through the net to put the Nittany Lions ahead 55-48.
Marshall’s shot sent the crowd of 7,713 — evenly mixed between Penn State blue and Bucknell orange— into a frenzy.
“Everything in my head is just coach Pat telling me, `Just hang in (there). Stay there and follow through on your shot,”’ Marshall said. “That’s what I did. It hit all of the rim, but fortunately it went down.”
Muscala, who entered Friday leading the Bison with 17.2 points per game, was limited to just four shot attempts and finished 6 of 8 from the charity stripe.
Chambers said he was very familiar with Muscala’s game, having studied tape of the 6-foot-11 senior when he was coach at Boston University before taking over at Penn State in 2011.
“We just tried to make it uncomfortable, tried to outwork him and take his position,” Chambers said. “We beat him to his spots, the spots that he likes.”