Lions Are So Close — Again

Penn State shows heart but can't quiet get over the top against another ranked team on the road. This time, Purdue escaped with a last-second win.

Following an 83-68 loss to then-No. 10 Purdue at the Jordan Center Jan. 5, there were questions about the heart of the Penn State basketball team. The Nittany Lions were pushed around in the game, being outrebounded by 15.

Penn State dropped another game to the now-No. 13 Boilermakers Wednesday night, this time at Mackey Arena. Yet following the 63-62 defeat, nobody was questioning the collective heart of the Lions anymore.

Star center JaJuan Johnson's jumper secured the victory for Purdue, and sent PSU to its second-straight final-possession loss to a ranked foe on the road. The Lions dropped a 69-66 decision at now-No. 1 (then-No. 2) Ohio State Saturday, a game that followed consecutive home wins over ranked opponents (Michigan State and Illinois).

“That's an NCAA team,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of PSU. “It's amazing, two weeks ago it didn't look like that. They're going to be tough to beat anywhere.”

Whether Penn State makes the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 remains to be seen. The Lions are now 10-8 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten. They have 11 regular-season games remaining, seven of them against ranked opponents and four of those on the road.

So the opportunities for eye-popping victories are there. But can PSU take advantage?

“It's just frustrating that we don't have anything for the fruits of our labor,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis said when asked about the last two games.

But the Lions have proved to be a resilient bunch that can hang with anybody. They were at it against Wednesday, falling behind by 14 early before cutting the lead to 34-28 at the break. They scored the first seven points of the second half to go up 35-34 and the game was close the rest of the way.

This despite the fact that leading scorer Talor Battle had another off shooting night, making only 5 of 15 shots. Fortunately for PSU, forwards Jeff Brooks (19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks) and David Jackson (13 points) picked up the slack.

Indeed, Jackson hit the biggest shot of the game for Penn State, popping out following a high screen he set for Battle and making a 3-pointer to give the Lions a 62-61 edge with 21 seconds left.

Purdue guard E'Twuan Moore tried to force the action at the other end, but lost control of the ball with 5.4 seconds left and it went out of bounds. Television replays were not clear whether the ball went off Moore or PSU guard Tim Frazier.

The officials said it went off Frazier.

Following a Purdue timeout to set the play and then a PSU timeout to set the defense, the Boilermakers inbounded to Johnson, who was wide open from 17 feet. He made the shot -- giving him a game-high 25 on the night -- for the victory.

Purdue improved to 16-3 and 5-1 after breaking its two-game losing streak.

The Nittany Lions are off the weekend and swing back into action against struggling Iowa at the Jordan Center next Wednesday.

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