Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 30, 2015

Finally, after six losses in a row, Penn State has some momentum. It is much-needed.

On Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions took down visiting Minnesota, 63-58, with Brandon Taylor-the team?s second-leading scorer–out with a knee injury. Before that, Penn State toppled Rutgers, 79-51, to earn its first Big Ten win of the season. Now, the Nittany Lions will play at Illinois on Saturday with a modest two-game winning streak and a bit of swagger.

One player who deserves credit for the mini-surge is senior guard D.J. Newbill, the hub of this team that began the season with a 12-1 mark in search of its first NCAA bid since 2011 and just its second since 2001.

But that?s when a six-game skid ensued to start Big Ten play for Penn State (14-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten) and Pat Chambers, who is in his fourth season in State College, Pa.

And some of those defeats stung, as PSU lost by four at Rutgers, by three at Indiana, in overtime at home to Purdue and by six at Michigan State. Compounding matters has been the loss of guard John Johnson, who scored 10 or more points in five games but was suspended Jan. 12 for a violation of team policy.

But now, the worm has turned with the 6-4, 210-pound Newbill leading the charge as the Big Ten?s leading scorer with a 21.5-point average. I caught up with Newbill, a Philadelphia native and the only PSU player averaging double-digits, as he prepped to travel to Champaign to face Illinois.

Q: Two wins in a row for you guys. What does that mean to the squad?s confidence?

A: It means a lot. Losing six games in a row was tough. Some were close. It was deflating. We kept a good attitude and wanted to keep getting better. We listened to our coaches and trusted one another. And we were able to get things turned around the last two games.

Q: What are the team goals?

A: Our goal is to be the best team we can be by the end of the year. We don?t make predictions or anything like that.

Q: As the Big Ten?s leading scorer, do you feel like a marked man each night out?

A: A bit. Me being the leading scorer on the team, teams probably want to get the ball out of my hands or limit my shots. But I have to rely on my teammates and coaches to put me in position to be successful.

Q: Was it frustrating for you on Wednesday night vs. Minnesota, scoring just 12 points of 4-of-15 shooting?

A: No. I believe we have other scorers on the team and there are other things I can do to help the team out–defending, talking on defense, playing with great effort.

Q: Who is the best player on the team that no one talks about?

A: Probably Devin (Foster). He didn?t get a lot of heavy minutes in the non-conference but is now and is getting more comfortable out there. He can do a lot of great things for us. I love playing with him and the team does, too.

Q: What is your favorite Big Ten arena to play in, aside from the Bryce Jordan Center?

A: I like Ohio State. The crowd is so into it. It?s a big arena. The courts are soft. And we got a win there last year against a Top 25 team.

Q: Who is the best player you have played against this year?

A: Frank Kaminsky. He?s a great player. He has size, can move, does stuff without the ball. He?s incredible. He can put it on the floor, shoot threes, mid-range, pull-ups, in the post. He?s sneaky athletic. He has an overall great game.

Q: What part of your game have you improved the most this season?

A: I am more patient on the court. Last year, I was focused on scoring to keep my team in games. Now, I am letting it flow, getting guys involved and scoring when I can.

Q: Who is the toughest guy on the team?

A: Besides myself, I would say probably Geno Thorpe. Ross Travis is another guy. I would take either to a street fight with me.

Q: You finished second in the conference in scoring last year (17.8 ppg). What would it mean to you to lead the Big Ten in scoring this season?

A: That isn?t really my focus but would be a great accomplishment for me and the team. I am not scoring by myself. I get a lot of picks and screens set for myself. If I lead the league in scoring, it will be a team award.

Q: Is there anybody in college or the NBA who has a game or style similar to you?

A: Damian Lillard ? Reggie Jackson. Score-first guards who can get others involved.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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