Nittany Lions Ready to Dance

Penn State advances to Big Ten title game by dispatching Michigan State and appears to have locked down an NCAA bid.

Penn State is playing for its first Big Ten Tournament championship Sunday, having dispatched Michigan State 61-48 in a Saturday semifinal to set up the title showdown with No. 1 Ohio State.

And yet in the way that matters most, Selection Sunday in Indianapolis does not figure to be all that dramatic for the Nittany Lions.

Most experts seem to think the win over the Spartans clinched an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for 19-13 Penn State, it's first in a decade.

Eighth-year Lion coach Ed DeChellis was vehement in his contention that PSU does indeed belong in NCAAs after winning four straight games, including three during the league tourney at Conseco Fieldhouse.

“Our strength of schedule was No. 5 (nationally before the game),” DeChellis said. “Our RPI was No. 42. What else do you want us to do? We beat Indiana. We beat Wisconsin, a top-50 (RPI) team. We beat Michigan State. We've done the things we've needed to do.”

He got no argument from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose squad was considered a virtual lock for NCAAs prior to the game but now has a worse record than the Lions (19-14) and has lost two of three in head-to-head matchups.

“I think it's a tournament team, I really do,” Izzo said of PSU.

Earlier in the day, Penn State actually found itself as the butt of jokes on the national scene following Friday's quarterfinal win over Wisconsin. The 36-33 victory was -- by far -- the lowest scoring game in Big Ten Tournament history.

And after falling into an early 11-2 hole to the Spartans, the Lions appeared to be every bit as bad offensively as the naysayers suggested. Izzo's bunch was fresh off a quarterfinal beat-down (74-56) of second-seeded Purdue and looked to be in high gear in this one, too.

But Lion senior guard Talor Battle wasn't worried, even after DeChellis burned a timeout for PSU to regroup.

“The first thing I told the coaching staff, because (DeChellis) was flipping out, (was) let's just all calm down and stick together,” Battle said. “We had silly mistakes. We were just doing silly things we could easily take care of.”

“They punched us pretty good, and we were able to absorb it and get back in the thing,” DeChellis added.

It was all Penn State the rest of the game, thanks primarily to Battle and backcourt mate Tim Frazier. They led a rally that tied the game 26-26 at the break.

Up 30-29 early in the second half, Battle went off, hitting four straight 3-pointers. Within two and a half minutes the lead was 42-33.

“It was a bad time to go into a drought, because Battle started to light it up from three,” Spartan forward Draymond Green said.

Battle finished with 25 points and Frazier broke out for a career-high 22. In other words, they combined for 47. MSU had 48 as a team. Frazier also had eight rebounds and six assists.

“Frazier was the key,” Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas said. “He had a great game, hitting threes and getting into the paint and scoring.”

With Lucas and his bad ankle obviously feeling the effects of three games in three days and Green playing cautious due to foul trouble, the Spartans never mounted a serious threat down the stretch.

It helped that Penn State kept attacking offensively, clamped down defensively and dominated the glass (38-32).

The only real question in the final 10 minutes of the game was whether PSU would self-destruct, as it had after holding big second-half leads several times during the regular season. But the Lions were dialed in on this afternoon.

DeChellis said it began following a win at Minnesota to cap the regular season. He knew PSU had work to do to reach the NCAA Tournament. And he told the players as much.

He recalled saying, “Give me the best six days you have. … I need your focus, your energy. You have to eat right. You have to sleep right. … If you do that, we'll take our best swing.”

That swing has gotten them to the Big Ten championship game.

And, it would appear, the NCAA Tournament.

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