Nittany Lions Tumble

Penn State has one 6-foot-5, 210-pounder who can slash, dunk and rip offensive rebounds, and use his long arms to disrupt passing lanes and block shots. Michigan State, meanwhile, has six such wings. <P>Not quite exact duplicates of one another. But athletes with similar bodies and skill sets.

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Which explains why the Spartans overwhelmed the game but outclassed Nittany Lions at the Jordan Center Wednesday night, 84-58.

PSU’s prime athlete — freshman Geary Claxton — did his part, going off for a career- and game-high 20 points, three blocks and a steal. He went to the line 14 times, making 10.

“The young freshman is going to be a player,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo, who has propelled his program into college basketball’s stratosphere on the backs of players like Claxton.

But the rookie wasn’t enough against the 20th-ranked Spartans, who improved to 9-2. Izzo sent waves of athletic wing men at the Nittany Lions (6-8), building a double-digit lead in the first half. The onslaught never stopped in the second.

“They have a lot of good players,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. “That’s why they’re ranked where they’re ranked.”

Michigan State entered the game with six athletes averaging double figures in scoring. Four hit that level Wednesday, with thoroughbreds Alan Anderson (17) and Shannon Brown (16) leading the way. Not bad considering no one logged more than 30 minutes, and star center Paul Davis managed only five shots (two makes).

“They have a lot of different weapons and they can score a lot of different ways,” DeChellis said.

Penn State began the evening by using its primary weapon — junior forward Aaron Johnson, whose seven double-doubles were tops in the league. Johnson flexed his muscles and the Spartans were stunned. He powered his way to six points in the first four minutes as the Lions built a 13-8 lead. Johnson’s free throw a few moments later gave Penn State a 16-13 edge.

Then Michigan State began to get loose. Maurice Ager went hard to the hole, Matt Trannon tipped in a miss, Ager hit from distance and Anderson stuck back his own errant shot. The 9-0 run turned momentum.

Once the rangy wings began digging down defensively on Johnson, it got ugly. MSU’s lead was 10 (40-30) at the break. Kelvin Torbert hammered home a jam at 10:04 of the second half to make it 62-42, and that was that.

“They were doubling down a lot, and we didn’t kick it out,” DeChellis said.

If not for Claxton, it would have been even more brutal. He kept attacking the bucket, kept getting to the line.

“I just tried to stay active, get into the offensive flow,” he said. “The ball was going down tonight.”

“He’s very athletic, you always can do more with an athlete,” Izzo added. “He can put the ball on the floor. He can offensive rebound. He can post up. As his outside shooting gets better, I think he’s gonna become a better and better player. When you can get to the free throw line 14 times, that means you have a basketball IQ, too.”

Meanwhile, Johnson, who typically lives a the line, began bobbling the ball every time he touched it. He had as many points as turnovers (four) in the second half.

Fellow forward Travis Parker was in foul trouble all game and never did get going.

“Parker’s got to stay in the game,” Izzo said. “I felt for Eddie on that.”

And the Penn State guards -- Ben Luber, Marlon Smith, Mike Walker and Danny Morrissey -- couldn’t deal with the length and quickness of the MSU backcourt. They combined to shoot 4 of 17 from the floor and 2 of 11 from the arc.

Penn State’s overall sketchy play led to 13 turnovers in the second half and 33 Spartan points off miscues in the game.

“If we could take care of the ball offensively, things would be a lot different,” DeChellis said.

More athletes like Claxton wouldn’t hurt, either.

“They have about 10 of those kind of guys,” DeChellis said of Michigan State. “That’s what we need to try to get to.”

PERSONNEL: DeChellis continued to use true freshman power forward Brandon Hassell as his first big man off the bench. Hassell, another terrific athlete, had five points, four rebounds and a pair of steals in 17 minutes. If the rookie can learn to play under control, he’ll earn even more playing time.

KEY STAT: Difficult not to focus on Michigan State’s 33 points off turnovers. Penn State had eight. The difference — 25 — was one off the point differential in the game.

EYE-OPENER: Claxton wasted little time proving he had the athletic chops to hang with MSU. Three minutes in, he blocked Ager as the Spartan tried to power past him one-on-one. Claxton was called for a foul that replays showed was bogus. Three minutes later he received the ball deep in the post against Torbert. Claxton went high off two feet and dropped the ball into the bucket against one of the league’s top defenders.

ED SAID: “Geary played extremely well. Very hard. Aggressive. That was a very, very bright spot for us this evening. He played within himself and took it to the basket. I thought he did a great job. For a young guy in his first Big Ten game, I thought he was outstanding.”

QUOTABLE: Izzo, on the Lions: “Eddie’s gonna have a good team. He’s just gotta get a couple of those young kids now to be a little older. Unfortunately, that takes seasons.”

AND ANOTHER THING: Penn State has not won a Big Ten road game since 2001. It looks to break that streak Saturday at Minnesota (8 p.m. tip). The 10-3 Gophers had a bye on the first night of conference play.

Link to recent interviews (in QuickTime audio format)

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