The Nittany Lions used an early second-half explosion to lead by as many as 29 before cruising to a 77-61 victory over Central Connecticut State. In doing so, PSU improved to 4-0 for only the second time under eighth-year coach Ed DeChellis.
Man, we're all having fun, senior forward Jeff Brooks said. I think that's going to be the theme of the whole year, to just enjoy it.
Nobody has been enjoying themselves more than Brooks. He was at it again Monday, going 7 of 7 from the field, 1 of 1 from the arc and 6 of 6 from the stripe for a career- and game-high 21 points.
A 4.5-points-per-game man coming into this season, Brooks is now averaging a team-best 17 points and making an astounding 72.2 percent of his shots.
The problem in the past was not having any confidence in myself, Brooks said. DeChellis referred to those issues as, the mental state of things.
We're hoping he has a great senior year for him and his team, DeChellis said.
When Brooks is hot, star guard Talor Battle does not have to be at the top of his game for the Lions to have a chance to win. That much was obvious Monday, as Battle had a poor first half (going 2 of 12 from the floor) but didn't have to force things in the second. He finished 4 of 15 for a season-low nine points.
But overall Penn State was outstanding in the second half, especially early. Attacking a 2-3 zone that caused some headaches in the first period, the Lions made 11 straight shots to boost the halftime margin from 38-26 to 62-35. The Blue Devils' heads were spinning, as veteran coach Howie Dickenman eventually tried man-to-man and 1-3-1 defenses, all to no avail.
Asked about Penn State's outburst -- during which six different players scored -- Dickenman said, We weren't prepared for as good a shooting as they had there, before adding PSU made eight straight against his defense.
Told it was actually 11, he deadpanned, Well, I stopped (counting) at eight.
I just think we were more aggressive, PSU freshman guard Taran Buie said. Coach preached for us to come out more aggressive on offense.
Buie played his best game yet at Penn State, shaking off an early air ball to sink 5 of 9 shots for 14 points and four rebounds. He also took a pair of charges on defense.
And speaking of defense, the Lions did solid work keeping CCSU (3-1) out if its transition game. The Blue Devils came in averaging 82.3 points per game but could never get into a flow against their bigger and more athletic PSU counterparts.
In the half court, the Lions used a switching man approach to keep CCSU from getting clean looks. When a Blue Devil did find a gap to slice through, he was often met by a help defender ready to take a charge.
I think defensively, we're better than we've been, DeChellis said. Guys are buying into what we're doing, and stepping up and taking charges is a big part of that.
After every charge call, the Lions would loudly cheer and high-five whoever took the hit. Even that part of the game looked like a lot of fun. Coming off a season in which PSU went 11-20, DeChellis is happy to see the positive emotions, albeit with a bit of trepidation.
We haven't lost, though; we haven't had any of that (negative) stuff, he cautioned.
A much greater challenge figures to arrive soon enough as the Lions travel to SEC country to take on Mississippi in Oxford Friday night. It marks Penn State's first road game of the year.
We're excited, especially (the) seniors, Brooks said. It is going to be a great measuring stick for us as a team.
SHORT SHOTS: Penn State lead 72-47 when DeChellis cleared his bench following the final media timeout with 3:55 remaining. CCSU outscored the Lions 14-4 the rest of the way. We gotta work on our (last) four-minute guys, DeChellis quipped. The Blue Devils never led in the game after falling behind 9-0. There is no TV slated for the Mississippi game, which tips at 7 p.m.