About halfway through the opening 20 minutes of Thursday's home game against Iowa, Penn State guard D.J. Newbill dribbled to the point and juked a defender with a right-to-left crossover, but fell down as he missed a difficult layup.
With Iowa consequently in transition, Hawkeyes' Zach McCabe eyed up an open 3-pointer to push the team's lead to double-digits until Newbill came out of nowhere for an emphatic block.
Even Lions’ football coach Bill O'Brien gave him not one, but two high fives for the effort when Newbill went sprawling into the courtside crowd.
"He comes sprinting down, doesn’t give up on the play and blocks it in the corner,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “That’s Penn State basketball. I know we’re struggling, but that’s what you’re going to see.”
The block wasn't the only momentum play Newbill contributed to the Lions’ efforts to not only pull off a win, but also motivate a relatively large student crowd on hand.
Highlight reel plays such as an opening possession alley-oop facilitated by Jermaine Marshall and nailed jumpers to stay close were key when the Lions needed it most.
“I think [those plays] were big because it gave us a little bit of a home-court advantage [to] get the crowd going and get the team hyped up,” Newbill said.
However, Newbill produced more than just highlights in a down-to-the-wire loss to the Hawkeyes.
In fact, the slashing guard was hitting on all cylinders offensively, scoring 16 points in the first half and finishing with 26.
The performance was Newbill’s second-highest scoring night as a Nittany Lion, just below his 27-point showing against Michigan State on Jan. 16.
Statistically, the Lions, who shot over 40 percent from the field and behind the arc, were bolstered by Newbill’s 11-for-20 shooting coupled with a surprising three made 3-pointers.
Prior to Thursday night, Newbill was just 1-of-20 from downtown in Big Ten play.
And while Newbill — the team’s point guard — tallied only two assists, the 6-foot-4 guard hauled in a game-high eight rebounds.
Outside of the box score, Chambers said Newbill’s performance was more about his perseverance as opposed to the points.
“I knew he had it in him,” Chambers said. “…He was a great leader tonight. It wasn’t about the points. It was about the hustle plays and not giving in when things looked bad.”