Lions Look to Band Together

On Coaches vs. Cancer Day at the BJC, Penn State aims to raise serious money for a good cause and beat the Badgers to take another step toward an NCAA bid.

As Penn State closes out its January schedule against No. 17 Wisconsin at the Jordan Center Saturday, it finds itself in a unique position -- namely, in the thick of things when it comes to the Big Ten race and a potential berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Nittany Lions (11-8, 4-4), who have finished higher than sixth in the conference once since joining the league in 1992, now stand in fifth place. They also find themselves in RPI guru Jerry Palm's latest NCAA tourney projections (as a 12th seed).

Eighth year coach Ed DeChellis wants fans to know there's plenty of room on the Penn State basketball bandwagon. Or, in the case of Saturday's game, the headband wagon.

As part of Coaches vs. Cancer Day at the Jordan Center, PSU is conducting a “Band Together” promotion where fans can purchase a headband at the door (for $2) with all proceeds going to Penn State Coaches vs. Cancer. The athletic department will also donate $3 from every ticket purchased to the charity.

DeChellis plans to get into the spirit of the event by wearing a headband when he takes the floor shortly before the 4 p.m. tip.

“I don't think I've ever rocked a headband in my life,” he said with a laugh. “(Maybe) a couple of wristbands in the day. But I will come out with it on. My kids will probably cringe.”

The Nittany Lions will wear headbands during warm-ups, too, and Badger coach Bo Ryan is giving his players the option of doing the same. All of the headbands will be tossed into the crowd before the game -- including DeChellis'.

“I think what's important is that everybody understands the cause,” DeChellis said. “Whatever symbol we use, it's only a symbol, but the cause is important. We're trying to generate revenue and help people. If I have to wear a headband out there, that's OK.”

Penn State CVC has raised more than $1.5 million over the past 15 years, including a record $207,000 last year. Much of the money raised is distributed locally through the Bob Perks Cancer Assistance Fund.

A cancer survivor himself, DeChellis is heavily involved in CVC on the local and national levels.

“For me, it puts it all in perspective that our family is the most important thing -- basketball family, my family at home,” DeChellis said. “I know it can be taken away at any time.”

Getting a big turnout for Saturday's game is important on two fronts.

First, the more folks who show up, the more cash will be funneled to CVC.

The Nittany Lions can also use the support once the game starts. Since the outset of the Big Ten season, circumstances have conspired to impact home attendance. The first two home games were played while students were away on holiday break. Then, when State faced a ranked Illinois team Jan. 11, fans had to contend with a 9 p.m. tip and a snowstorm.

The next home game was against Iowa last Wednesday, and again Happy Valley was pelted with snow. The Lions went 3-1 in those four games, including a pair of wins against ranked opponents, but averaged a mere 6,721 fans in the 15,261-seat arena.

During that same stretch, Penn State played some of its best basketball on the road, albeit in tight losses to now-No. 1 Ohio State and now-No. 12 Purdue. There were 18,809 on hand in Columbus and 14,123 in West Lafayette, both sellouts.

“Our kids have really fed off crowds and the energy they have,” DeChellis said.

The Badgers (15-4, 5-2) have owned Penn State for nearly a decade, winning 10 straight and 13 of 15 in the series. Ryan's squad leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (56 ppg.) and has proven to be extremely patient on offense.

“They're really efficient,” DeChellis said. “The best I've seen in a long time at scoring with under 10 seconds on the shots clock. … So you better turn up the (defensive) intensity.”

Wisconsin is the sixth ranked opponent in the past seven games for Penn State. A win would go a long way to padding the old NCAA Tournament resume. Impressing what figures to be the biggest home crowd of the season to date -- more than 10,000 tickets had been sold as of Friday evening -- and maybe getting a few more souls on the bandwagon, would be nice, too.

“It's a heck of a stretch,” DeChellis said. “I just want our kids to play better and compete. If we do those things, we'll give ourselves a chance to win the game. After the game, I'll tell them the next game is the most important game.”

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