The Nittany Lions, riding double-figure scoring efforts from their four scholarship seniors, knocked off No. 18 Michigan State at the Jordan Center Saturday afternoon, 66-62.
It marked the first time this season the veterans all reached double digits, as they accounted for all but nine of the team's points while PSU improved to 9-6 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. The Spartans slipped to 10-5 and 2-1.
We feel when our seniors play well offensively and defensively, we give ourselves a chance to win, said PSU forward Jeff Brooks, who led the Lions with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Those are four seniors who have played a lot of minutes over the years, so they should be good, added MSU coach Tom Izzo.
The problem for Penn State most of this season has been that the four seniors -- Brooks, guard Talor Battle, forward David Jackson and center Andrew Jones -- have rarely clicked at the same time. But all were instrumental in this win.
Battle overcame a dicey shooting performance to hit what was effectively the game-clinching bucket with 18 seconds remaining. With Penn State leading 63-62, the Lions cleared for Battle, who blew past Korie Lucious before pulling up on the baseline and hitting a 10-footer.
Battle was 2 of 13 from the field before making the shot, but in a timeout leading up to it he, ran right up to Coach (Ed DeChellis) and said give me the ball.
He made a big shot when he needed to make it, DeChellis said. He was very confident.
Brooks and Jackson (11 points, seven rebounds) gave Michigan State fits on the wing. The Spartans, who typically run a three-guard offense, had nobody who could handle whichever bigger PSU forward happened to be playing the three spot on a given possession.
Brooks and Jackson are the toughest matchups for us, Izzo said. He also noted that Jones probably played the best game of his career.
Indeed, Jones (16 points) had been the missing cog for most of the season. Prior to Saturday's game, he ranked third on the team in minutes played but had failed to reach double figures in scoring even once.
One of his brightest moments Saturday came early in the second half. Trailing 36-31 at the break, Penn State was intent on setting a positive tone to start the second period. Battle drove and kicked to Jones, who hammered home a dunk.
That's a big momentum thing, Jones said. A dunk is only two points, but it gets the crowd involved. As a team, if you give up a dunk to start the second half, you are going to start questioning yourself.
Jones' key dunk.
The Spartans countered with two quick hoops by Durrell Summers (who finished with 21) to go up 40-34 before Penn State -- thanks in part to a pair of triples by Jackson -- unleashed a 10-0 run to lead 44-40.
It was a stark contrast to Wednesday's loss to No. 10 Purdue, where PSU trailed by four at the break and watched helplessly as the Boilermakers blew it open to start the second half. In that game, Purdue outrebounded the Lions by 15 and made nearly half its shots.
Though Michigan State regrouped after Penn State's early-second half rally Saturday -- there were seven straight lead changes at one point of the final half -- the Lions manned up physically.
They won the rebounding battle 40-36, blocked five shots (four by Brooks) and allowed the Spartans to make only 9 of 25 shots in the final 20 minutes.
I thought we had grit and determination, DeChellis said. I thought we fought out there.
The game was tight to the wire. Delvon Roe powered for two with 3:15 left to give MSU a 61-60 edge. Then Battle missed a 3-pointer, but it bounced high off the rim and Jones got the tip in for a 62-61 lead with 2:02 showing.
The teams swapped single free throws by Jones and Summers (each made one of two), and when Summers missed his second with 48 seconds left PSU led 63-62.
DeChellis called timeout with 38 seconds to go.
Everyone on the team wanted me to have the ball, Battle said. Right when I shot it, I knew it was in.
It put PSU up 65-62 with 18 seconds left. Summers missed a 3-point from deep in the corner and Lion guard Tim Frazier rebounded. He was fouled and made one of two to account for the final.
Izzo, whose team is thought to be a Big Ten title contender, called the game, one of the most disappointing losses of my career.
Asked if it was one of the best wins of his career, DeChellis said, Nah, noting that in the middle of this sort of grind -- MSU was the second of five straight ranked opponents for Penn State -- he doesn't have time to worry about such things.
Brooks was also looking ahead to the rest of the season, knowing this is the final go-round for the seniors.
Hopefully all four of us can keep it rolling, he said.
• Redshirt freshman guard Jermaine Marshall had another solid game off the bench with eight points on 3 of 4 shooting. He and Frazier (one point) were the only other Lions who scored in the game.
• Penn State had lost 10 straight games to ranked teams.
• Jones last reached double figures in a loss to Minnesota to close last season.
• MSU was 10 of 20 from the free-throw line.
• Jackson had three 3-pointers, matching a career high.
• Penn State plays host to No. 20 Illinois Tuesday. The game tips at 9 p.m. and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
• See the box score here: