IU digs deep to beat Penn St. in 3 OTs Career highs for Newkirk, Bryant and Johnson.

Forget, for just a second, the gut-check Indiana victory that potentially meant so much on so many levels, and consider this:

Who was the guy wearing Indiana No. 2, which the roster showed was Josh Newkirk?

His Wednesday night shooting suggested it was an impostor.

The reality demanded a deeper look.

The quick take in the Hoosiers’ 110-102 triple overtime win over Penn State had Newkirk scoring a career high 27 points, topping the 20-point effort he’d had with Pitt, and if he needed all those career-high 46 minutes, well, why quibble over the unimportant.

Newkirk was a savior at the end of the first overtime. He drove for a layup that barely beat the buzzer — officials took a LONG look at it – to force a second extra period.

SIDE NOTE: Penn State coach Pat Chambers was so furious about the decision that he seemed ready to fight the official who came over to break the news.

Anyway, Newkirk hit three-pointers, mid-range jumpers and more in a 9-for-14 effort (4-for-8 on three-pointers) to show, at least for one night, that all the extra shooting work sometimes really does pay off

This was huge given Newkirk over the previous three games was an offensive disaster. He was just 7-for-24 from the field, including a miserable 1-for-8 effort at Northwestern three days earlier.

“I have to thank (associate head coach Tim Buckley) for working with me and getting in extra shooting,” he said. “I credit him for me making those shots, and I want to thank my teammates for finding me in the right spots. I shot it with more confidence.”

Newkirk filled in the scoring gap created by the continuing absence of leading-scorer James Blackmon, who missed his second straight game with an apparent knee injury.

“It was great for Josh and for the team,” guard Robert Johnson said. “He came out aggressive. When he comes out like that, he’s hard to deal with.

“This is something to build on because we’ll need it moving forward.”

On a night for Hoosier heroes (do young guys ever REALLY get tired?), there was also center Thomas Bryant, who’d spent much of the season playing below his considerable potential.

With injuries decimating the roster, he was a beast against Penn State with a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds in 44 minutes. He was so dominant in overtime that IU’s offense came down to this — get him the ball and get out of the way.

Penn State had no answer until Bryant fouled out late in the third overtime.

By then, it was too late.

And don’t forget Johnson, who also had a career high with 27 points in a career-high 50 minutes.

“It was a test of wills,” coach Tom Crean said.

IU (15-8 overall, 5-5 in the Big Ten) could have buckled so many times, not only from the pressure of the game and Penn State’s play, but from the injuries and struggles that has knocked it out of Big Ten title contention and put its NCAA tourney hopes at risk.

Instead, it thrived when it mattered most.

“It would be hard to be much prouder than I am of these guys,” Crean said. “How they battled through and did not give in.

“When you’re trying to build toughness and build an identity, after having all the adversity we’ve gone through, and to have those guys play those kind of minutes and make those kind of plays was fantastic.

“We had some real growth tonight. I’ve coached a long time, and I’ll remember this one for the rest of my life.”

As for Penn State (12-11, 4-6), which has lost two heart-breakers to IU in the last two weeks, it was a missed opportunity. The Nittany Lions would have won if they had hit their free throws. Normally strong from the line, the Nittany Lions were just 17-for-29, which suggests the Assembly Hall effect was in fine form.

“We just have to make our free throws,” Chambers said. “If we do, the game is over. The basketball gods are not on our side.”

Instead, those gods favored IU. With a trip to No. 10 Wisconsin looming on Sunday, perhaps it will carry over

“Those guys continued to fight through it,” Crean said. “There’s no question they’ll get better from this. It helps them understand they can do it again if need be.” <br>