Another One Bites the Dust

Wisconsin is the latest ranked opponent to lose at Penn State. This time a packed house was on hand to see the action.

The largest basketball crowd to pack the Jordan Center in more than two years was on hand to see Penn State face No. 17 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon. And the Nittany Lions sent 'em home happy.

It may not have been the prettiest game, but Penn State -- fueled by those 14,292 fans -- rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to win, 56-52. It was the first time this season the Lions played before a home crowd of more than 9,000 and change.

During the spirited second-half rally, PSU sophomore guard Tim Frazier told backcourt mate Talor Battle, “It's rocking in here.”

Battle, who scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the final period, replied, “Yeah, we've got to keep 'em coming back.”

Penn State improved to 12-8 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten with its first win over the Badgers (15-5, 5-3) in 13 tries. In fact, it was Lion coach Ed DeChellis's first victory over Wisconsin counterpart Bo Ryan.

“This group has been a great group,” DeChellis said of his team, which is now tied for fourth in the Big Ten. “They have given us everything.”

There were two important things for the Nittany Lions on this day.

The first was not panicking after Wisconsin grabbed an early 22-9 lead. PSU seemed a bit overwhelmed by the crammed arena and was not sharp on either end of the floor, allowing the Badgers to make 10 of their first 16 shots while hitting just 4 of their own first 14 attempts and losing the rebounding tussle early.

State had one assist in the first half. Battle was 1 of 5 from the floor. Meanwhile, UW scoring leaders Jordan Taylor (12 points) and Jon Leuer (10) were both sizzling.

And yet it took a late Taylor 3-pointer to provide the nine-point edge at the break.

When asked if the Lions felt they were in for another long day against a team that always seemed to have their number, Battle said, “We don't have those thoughts anymore. Seriously, we were laughing at halftime, because without that last three, we were only down six and we hadn't made a shot.”

“I liked where the score was,” DeChellis said. “… We knew we weren't playing well.”

And that's where the second part of the winning equation came into play. Under Ryan, the Badgers have developed a well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed bunch. But in the final 20 minutes, Penn State took the fight to Wisconsin.

The Lions outrebounded the Badgers 19-11 in the second half, as center Andrew Jones tied a career high with 14 caroms. Overall, PSU was 12 of 20 from the free-throw line, while UW was only 2 of 3.

“The key -- and we put this up on the board -- was to embrace the physicality of the game,” DeChellis said. “I thought we had to play hard without fouling, and for the most part we did that.”

The crowd really cranked it up with 11:46 left in the game, when Frazier drove baseline and scored over Leuer to tie it at 35-35.

“Once we tied it, the crowd really exploded,” Battle said. “We took off and made some big plays.”

True enough, Penn State then took its first lead (38-35) when Battle hit a 3-pointer that capped an 18-6 run to start the second half. The Badgers played man defense exclusively, and Battle and Frazier began carving it up, sometimes finishing on their own and sometimes kicking to the big men (Jeff Brooks finished with 12 points and David Jackson 10).

Defensively, the Lions alternated between man and a 1-3-1 zone in the second half, and Wisconsin suddenly couldn't figure out how to get the ball to its best scorers.

“We tried to break their rhythm the best we could,” DeChellis said.

It worked. Up 42-40 with 6:50 remaining, the Badgers did not score for nearly five minutes. Even with a few misses at the free-throw line, PSU capitalized on the dry spell by scoring eight straight to go up 48-40.

Wisconsin scrambled late to try to get back in it, and got as close as 55-52 when Keaton Nankivil made a 3-pointer with seven seconds left. But Battle countered by making one of two free throws to ice it.

It was PSU's third home win over a ranked team this month. And this time, unlike what unfolded following previous upsets of Michigan State and Illinois, the fans did not rush the floor.

Penn State players and coaches are hoping they rush to the box office. After a Tuesday game at No. 20 Illinois, the Lions are back at the BJC to face Michigan on Super Bowl Sunday.

“It'll be huge for us,” DeChellis said. “We'll need a big crowd.”

SHORT SHOTS

• It was a great day to have a big crowd, as $3 from every ticket went to Coaches vs. Cancer.

• The Lions have won four straight Big Ten home games. The only other time they did that was in 1996.

• Penn State got four points from its bench in the game, while Wisconsin got none.

• Leuer finished with 18 for the Badgers while Taylor had 16.


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