Yet the Nittany Lions won with relative ease, 66-57, using a late first-half surge to give themselves a bit of breathing room and then never allowing the Hawks to take flight in the second half.
I've tried to emphasize to this team that we have to defend and rebound the ball, said PSU coach Ed DeChellis, whose outfit improved to 2-0. If we do that, we're going to give ourselves a chance. You can't let offense affect your defense.
Added guard Talor Battle, who was 0-6 from the arc: There's one thing that can always be constant, that's your energy level. You can really defend in games. You may not hit shots yet if we defend, we still have the opportunity to win the game. We did that.
The most energy came from senior forward Jeff Brooks, who set a career high with 18 points and matched a career best with nine rebounds. And it wasn't just that he was scoring and boarding, but when.
Late in the first half, with the Lions struggling to get anything going offensively, he hammered home a pair of dunks in a minute-and-a-half span to fuel a run that boosted their lead from 20-17 to 30-19 at the break.
I just came out and tried to be as aggressive as I could, Brooks said.
He had a dozen points in the second half as State generally kept the lead between nine and 13 points. St. Joe's (0-2) got within 53-46 with four minutes to go, but PSU responded on the next three possessions, getting one free throw from Battle, one free throw from forward Billy Oliver and then a clear-out and drive by Brooks.
The lead was 57-46 with 2:53 remaining and everyone in the house knew the game was over. It was that kind of night, offensively.
Second half, it was like a slugfest and we both played sloppy, DeChellis said.
We didn't make that real big shot that would have put real game pressure on (PSU), added Hawk coach Phil Martelli.
The Lions had a hand in that. St. Joe's favors an up-tempo attack, but managed just 55 shots in this game (making 19).
That's not enough shots, Martelli said, adding that the team's 19 turnovers were too many against a PSU defense that does not press.
Penn State also did strong work on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 45-38, which included 13 offensive boards.
DeChellis only played eight Nittany Lions, but worked many different looks with those eight. He got a nice lift off the bench from junior guard Cammeron Woodyard, who -- fittingly for this night - went 0-7 from the floor but was 5-6 on free throws to go along with five rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes.
Cam Woodyard came in and gave us some pretty good minutes defensively, DeChellis said.
In the postgame press conference, Battle asked to see a box score. Some of it was not pretty. He was 4 of 12 from the floor and took the collar from the arc. Starting forward D.J. Jackson was 2 of 7 on field goals. Rookie guard Taran Buie missed all four of this 3-point attempts.
Last year, you look at a stat sheet like this, and we probably lose by 15, Battle said.
All of which left DeChellis wondering how good the Lions can be if they actually hit a few treys.
I wish we could make some jump shots and loosen things up a little bit, he said. I don't think we're a 1-of-21 3-point shooting team. Hopefully we'll get better tomorrow in practice.
SHORT SHOTS: Battle had 15 points and Jackson 11 for the Lions. Forward Idris Hilliard paced four Hawks in doubles with 13. Penn State faces Fairfield at the Jordan Center Friday (7:30 p.m.)
See the box score: