That old line about the best offense being a good defense proved true at the Jordan Center Sunday afternoon. Penn State played its best defensive half of the season against New Hampshire, parlaying it into a huge lead at the break on the way to an easy 72-45 victory.
With only a Dec. 29 home tilt against Duquesne remaining before the start of Big Ten play, Pat Chambers' team (7-4) is riding its first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2011-12 season.
I wanted to go out and play harder than them, Chambers said of the Wildcats. I felt like we did that.
Penn State was active defensively from the start, scrambling from a variety of sets to push out on the UNH shooters. Nearly every attempt was contested as the Wildcats opened 1 of 9 and finished the first period at 5 of 28 (17.9 percent) overall and 1 of 10 from the arc.
This all unfolded in front of the PSU bench, as the assistant coaches and bench players whooped it up every time a Nittany Lion stepped into a passing lane or closed out on a jumper. The UNH players were frazzled.
Chambers noted that the vocal communication among his troops was key.
I think today was the best job we've ever done, he said. We talked early and often. When a team starts to communicate and listen to each other, that builds trust. I think what you saw today was a team building trust.
Chambers kept the energy high by substituting early and often, too. He rotated eight players for most of the half, and seven of them scored. Fresh throughout the first 20 minutes, the Lions motored up and down the floor. They had six steals and 15 points off turnovers.
We came out and started playing hard, said guard Jermaine Marshall, who put together another strong all-around game with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists. Marshall also had a career-high five steals.
For the game, New Hampshire had 15 turnovers and Penn State turned them into 23 points.
We need to create turnovers, Chambers said. We need to somehow get deflections, get quick runouts and get easy baskets.
The lead was 39-14 at intermission. Even for a PSU team that had nearly blown big advantages in recent wins over Army and Delaware State, that turned out to be more than safe. UNH (4-7) attempted to press in the second half but the Lions had little trouble cracking it over and over again.
State led by as many as 34 before Chambers cleared his bench. Guard D.J. Newbill (10 points), as well as forward Sasa Borovnjak (11) and Brandon Taylor (10) all reached double figures, too.
No Wildcat reached doubles as Bill Herrion's team -- which lost by eight at UConn and eight in overtime at Boston College earlier this season -- was held to its lowest point total of the year.
Forward Ross Travis, Penn State's leading rebounder, sprained his left knee in practice Thursday. He missed his first start of the season. But he came off the bench (with a heavy brace) and contributed four points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.
Guard Nick Colella started in place of Travis. He logged 29 minutes, scored six points and had a career-high three steals.
Walk-in guard Kevin Montminy saw eight minutes of action, including four in the first half. Chambers said Montminy was one of the most energetic players in practice all week, which is why he saw the floor before scholarship freshman Akosa Maduegbunam. Montminy hit a 3-pointer and had two rebounds.
Freshman forward Donovan Jack continued to impress. In 13 minutes, he scored six points and grabbed three rebounds. He was 2 of 2 from the field and 2 of 2 from the foul line.
The 27-point win was Penn State's widest margin of victory in Chambers' two seasons at the helm.
The Duquesne game next Saturday tips at 4 p.m.