After grinding out a 36-33 victory over No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament late Friday, the Nittany Lions improved to 18-13. Sporting a top-50 RPI and a top-10 strength of schedule, DeChellis believes his squad has earned its first NCAA bid in a decade.
In the weeks leading up to the conference tourney and even after an opening-round win over Indiana, DeChellis had been vague when asked whether his team had done enough to reach NCAAs. When the question came up after the win over the Badgers, however, he did not mince words.
Yes, he said definitively. He added, I think we deserve to be in the tournament.
If questions of PSU's NCAA worthiness remain -- and according to some experts, they do -- the sixth-seeded Lions can put an end to them by beating Michigan State in the conference semifinals Saturday. The seventh-seeded Spartans (also 18-13) advanced by thumping second-seeded Purdue earlier Friday.
Penn State's victory Friday was anything but pleasing to the eye. It was the lowest-scoring game in the history of the Big Ten Tournament.
However, the senior-oriented Lions did show serious heart in the win.
On a night when 20-point-per-game man Talor Battle needed just seven to become the school's all-time leading scorer, he suffered through one of the worst shooting performances of his career.
Battle made his first shot (a 3-pointer) but then went on to hit only 2 of his next 17. And yet he still led the Lions with nine points.
At first I thought it was just me, Battle said. Then I saw nobody else could hit any. But we fought and found a way to win. That's what good teams do.
Penn State charged out to a 14-0 lead and boosted the margin to 18-2 midway through the first half. It turned out to be half the points it would score in the entire game.
The Lions missed their last nine shots of the opening period as the Badgers cut it to 20-16 at the break. Though UW tied it several times in the second half, it never could take the lead.
After dealing with junk defense from Indiana in the opening round of the tournament, Battle appeared to have no legs for most of this game. He was hounded by Badger defensive ace Jordan Taylor and could not find many clean looks.
Luckily for the Lions, they played outstanding team defense (UW shot 29.4 percent for the game) and were strong on the boards (winning that battle, 34-31). That prevented Wisconsin from ever gaining any serious momentum.
As the game trudged toward the waning moments, Penn State found itself up 32-30 with less than three minutes to go.
At the 2:29 mark, guard Tim Frazier found Battle coming hard off a screen, and Battle nailed a triple for a 35-30 lead. It also gave him 2,140 career points, two more than PSU's previous all-time scoring record, set by Jesse Arnelle in 1955.
Coach kept calling plays for me, so I eventually had to hit one, Battle said.
The teams swapped empty possessions before Keaton Nankivil hit a 3-pointer for Wisconsin with a minute to go, cutting the lead to 35-33.
Then Battle missed in the lane and Taylor was just short on a 3-pointer. Battle grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 10 seconds left.
He made one of two for a 36-33 lead.
Taylor shot an airball with time running out and Frazier snagged the rebound to seal the victory.
We gutted it out, DeChellis said. I'm really proud of the kids.
Battle matched a season low with his nine points. And yet in this crazy game, that point total marked a team high.
Not the he minded either way.
I'll trade all those points to win games, he said.
Saturday's game will tip at around 4 p.m. (following the first semi) and be carried by CBS. The Lions have not appeared on CBS since losing to Temple in the 2001 Sweet 16.
This was Penn State's fourth victory over a ranked opponent this year, the most in school history.
Frazier had a game-high seven rebounds to go along with eight points and four assists.
Taylor led Wisconsin with 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
The Lions have been to the conference semis twice (2000 and 2001) but are 0-2 in those games.
Battle played all 40 minutes and each of PSU's starters logged at least 35. PSU's bench played a total of 10 minutes.
Along those lines, stupid question of the night was submitted by a reporter to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. Ryan was asked if his team was tired due to a short bench. We got 40 minutes out of our bench. How many minutes did they get? he said. Plus, they played last night. Wisconsin had a bye in the first round.
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