Lions Excited to Go Dancing

Penn State coach DeChellis views the program's first NCAA bid in a decade as a fitting reward for his seniors.

How happy was Penn State coach Ed DeChellis when he learned his team had earned a bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament? So much so, he could have burst.

The Nittany Lions, who have not been to the Big Dance since 2001, used a run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game in Indianapolis to lock down their bid this year. DeChellis and his team learned of the bid while watching the CBS selection show from the team hotel in Indianapolis.

The 10th-seeded Nittany Lions will face seventh-seeded Temple in a West Region game in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday. DeChellis' initial reaction?

“I've got to be honest with you, I had to go use the restroom,” he said on a conference call with reporters Sunday night. “Soon as we came up on the board, and I kissed my wife and kids and shook hands with everybody in the room … I needed to go use the restroom. So that was the end of the party for me.”

Fortunately for the eighth-year coach, the run in Indianapolis -- which concluded with a loss to Ohio State in the title game at Conseco Fieldhouse earlier Sunday -- was not the end of the party for his team. The Nittany Lions enter NCAA play at 19-14 overall and the No. 10 seed indicated there was no question of their tournament worthiness.

Though he contended after all three of PSU's wins at Big Tens that his team belonged in NCAAs, DeChellis admitted he was not 100 percent sure it would happen until the program's name came up on the selection show.

“When names start popping up and you get to that second bracket, you start to get that little feeling in your stomach,” said DeChellis, whose 2009 team had its collective heart ripped out on Selection Sunday that year. “You hope it goes the way you think it will go. … We had a pretty good indication we were in. But you never know.”

DeChellis was most happy for the team's five seniors, especially guard Talor Battle, who became the school's all-time leading scorer during Big Tens.

“The little guy has courage,” DeChellis said.

He'll need it against an Owl team that sports a 25-7 record. This will not be the first the two programs have seen of each other this year. Penn State and Temple also had a closed scrimmage at the Jordan Center in the preseason.

“What I took away from that was we needed to get better quickly, because we didn't play well,” DeChellis said. “I thought they were a tougher team (than PSU) mentally and physically back in November.”

Beyond that, DeChellis said he would not have a chance to really dive into game prep for the Owls until taking a few hours to unwind. And, after the Lions played four games in four days, he intended to give them Monday off. But with travel and then a Thursday game looming, there is not too much time to rest.

DeChellis joked that, “Maybe we should meet in Harrisburg rather than Tucson.”

He was clearly in a good mood. And why not? As difficult as the previous week was and the next few days figure to be, Sunday's magic moment put it all into perspective.

“You coach for a lot of reasons -- you're competitive, you want to win,” he said. “But the smile and joy on our kids' faces when they jumped off the couch, it was very, very special to me. That's why we coach. I love to see the joy and excitement.”

If only for a few moments before making a beeline for the restroom.

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