The Nittany Lions turned in their worst defensive performance of the season and were dominated in the paint while losing at Virginia Tech Sunday afternoon, 79-69.
Defensively, we were really bad in the first half, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. I don't have an answer for that. Our interior defense was bad. They were able to get the ball in the post and get what they wanted.
The Hokies, who had lost three straight heading into Sunday's action, put four players in doubles and hit 54.5 percent of their shots in improving to 5-4. Their 79 points marked a season high and were the most scored against PSU this year.
Virginia Tech took control late in the first half by hammering Penn State inside. The Nittany Lion big men offered no resistance -- State had zero blocks in the half -- as the Hokies built a 22-4 advantage in points in the paint.
Guard Malcolm Delaney did not miss a shot in the first half, scoring 15 points as Tech carried a 44-33 lead into intermission. The Hokies made 18 of 29 shots as a team to that point of the game.
Once again, Lion senior forward Jeff Brooks found himself in early foul trouble against a top opponent. He did not score in the first 20 minutes and finished the game with two points, 12.6 below his season average coming in.
Any time you get in foul trouble and have to sit for an extended period of time, it really hurts your rhythm, said fellow forward David Jackson, who returned from missing a game due to a stinger and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. He was never able to get it going.
The only Lion who was able to get it going was you guessed is guard Tailor Battle. Battle finished with a game-high 26 points and helped spark an early second half rally.
He made two free throws to cut the lead to 44-41 with 16:15 left. But Tech countered with a 3-pointer from Erick Green and Penn State went into a scoring funk for the next six minutes. By the time it recovered, the Hokies had gotten their running game going and led 54-41 with 10:53 to go. State never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
For the day, Tech outscored PSU 16-2 on fastbreaks.
We had a chance, DeChellis said. We cut it to 44-41 and then we took some tough shots. Our shot selection wasn't good at the time and it led to breakaway baskets for them.
Battle's determination was all that prevented it from becoming a laugher down the stretch. With nobody else willing or able to step up and make a clutch shot for the Lions, the senior focused solely on scoring. He did not have an assist in the game.
It was difficult to blame him for looking shot first. Brooks was 1 of 4 from the field on the day. Center Andrew Jones had two of State's first three buckets then pulled another disappearing act, with no shots in the second half.
Some other guys need to play better, DeChellis said.
Forward Billy Oliver, back after missing a game due to concussion symptoms, provided a slight boost off the bench, with nine points and four rebounds. But even he could not make a big bucket when it mattered, going 1 of 4 on his specialty -- the 3-point shot.
Delaney finished with 18 points and eight assists for the Hokies while Green was good for 15 points. Starting forwards Jeff Allen (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Terrell Bell (13 points, 10 boards) both had their way inside against Penn State.
The Lions now take a week off for finals before facing Maine at the BJC Dec. 21. And that is the end of the nonconference season, meaning the chance to get anything remotely close to a NCAA Tournament resume-boosting win outside of the Big Ten has gone by the wayside.
Jackson said the team can't afford to focus on that negative.
The past is the past, he said. We can't dwell on this.