Penn State Defeats Cornell in Opener

Year Three of the Ed DeChellis Era began Saturday as the Nittany Lion basketball team took the floor against Cornell. It's difficult to know what to expect from Penn State this season due to a sizable contingent of new faces that includes six scholarship freshmen and a junior college transfer. Ed DeChellis will rely heavily on Geary Claxton, Ben Luber, Mike Walker, and Travis Parker to shoulder the load until the newcomers become comfortable.

While the Lions got their first taste of game competition today, Cornell entered the game already having played twice, including a five-point loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, a game which the Big Red led with less than five minutes to play. Cornell's starting lineup featured preseason Ivy League Player of the Year Lenny Collins, who led the Big Red in scoring through two contests with 18.5 points per game.

Neither team could find the range in the opening minutes. Penn State struggled to get open looks from their half court offense and turned the ball over twice in the first four minutes. Cornell, meanwhile, had their own problems making shots, but they were active on the offensive glass and frequently created second-chance opportunities.

Luber made a three-pointer out of the first television timeout to give Penn State a 7-6 lead. But, the Nittany Lions went into another shooting drought, allowing Cornell to pull ahead 11-7 on a three-pointer by Collins. Finally, Penn State found some offense. Luber and Parker were the catalysts as the Lions scored on four consecutive possessions to take a 15-11 lead near the 10 minute mark.

The Big Red took advantage of another prolonged Penn State shooting slump to take a 29-23 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the half. The Lions were often forced to take shots from beyond the arc as the shot clock wound down because they were unable to work the ball inside. Penn State pared the deficit to 29-27 at halftime thanks to Claxton who converted a tip-in, then blocked a shot and fed freshman Jamelle Cornley for a basket in transition.

The Nittany Lions shot 34% from the floor in the first half, including an abysmal 1-for-10 performance from three-point range. Claxton led Penn State with eight points and ten rebounds. Cornell made 41% of their shots in the half and was led by Collins with ten points.

The second half began much like the first with the Nittany Lions' basket looking as though there was a lid covering it. Penn State scored just four points in the first eight minutes of the half, and Cornell extended their lead to eight at 39-31. The Lions desperately needed someone to step up and make shots, and Claxton did just that, scoring five points in less than a minute to bring Penn State within striking distance at 42-39 at the ten minute mark.

Just as Claxton looked like he was about to take the game over, he had to head to the bench with his fourth personal foul. Last year, that would have been a devastating blow to the Nittany Lions, but today, the team didn't miss a beat thanks to its bench.

Cornley brought the Lions within one by making two foul shots and then gave the Lions their first lead since the opening minutes with a basket on the blocks, forcing a Cornell timeout. The break didn't slow Penn State's momentum however.

Freshman Milos Bogetic blocked a shot, leading to a critical four point possession at the other end of the floor. Mike Walker drilled a three from the corner and drew the foul. He missed the free throw, but Bogetic grabbed the rebound, got fouled and made one of two foul shots to give the Lions a 48-44 lead.

Ed DeChellis talked about the bench production after the game, saying "That's something we haven't had in the last couple of years. We haven't had guys that could come in off the bench and pitch in and help us."

After being ice cold for most of the contest, Penn State got red hot from the field to take a 10-point lead with under six minutes to play. Walker hit another three, Luber made a 17-footer, and David Jackson canned a jumper from the corner during the 12-0 run, prompting another Cornell timeout.

Down the stretch, it was Cornell that couldn't find the range, dooming their chances of a comeback. The Big Red found every shot contested by a Penn State defender, and the Lions crashed the boards to prevent second chance opportunities. At the offensive end, Penn State stayed in a groove and pulled away, closing with a 22-9 run on the way to a 66-54 victory.

Coach DeChellis was pleased with the end result, but even moreso, he was pleased with his team's composure. "What was positive is we didn't get excited," DeChellis said. "We got down a few baskets and guys didn't look around and think 'Wow, how are we gonna do this?' We just buckled up and made some plays. I think it's important that we made plays without Geary Claxton in the lineup. We made our run without him in the lineup."

Penn State shot 41% in the second half and 38% overall. Luber led four Nittany Lions in double figures with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Claxton scored 13 points and pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds. Cornley added 12 points in his first game as a Lion, while Walker chipped in with 11. The Nittany Lions outrebounded Cornell 49-33.

Short Shots

- The only new face in the Penn State starting lineup was David Jackson, the junior college transfer from Gulf Coast Community College. He joined Claxton, Luber, Parker and Brandon Hassell on the floor at tip-off.

- Despite a 12:30 PM tip-off that ensured fans would get home in time to see the kickoff of Penn State-Michigan State, today's game was played in front of a small, relatively subdued home crowd.

Not even KernKraft 400, the song that had Beaver Stadium jumping this season, could get the student section going in this one until the Lions made their big second half run.

The most vocal section for the majority of the game was behind the basket closest to the Penn State bench where a large group of Geary Claxton's family and friends were seated.

- Brandon Hassell scored the first basket of the season for Penn State.

- Milos Bogetic was the first freshman to get into the game for the Nittany Lions, replacing Brandon Hassell at center. Jamelle Cornley was active at both ends of the floor and played the best of the reserves.

- Freshman center Joonas Suotamo missed the game due to a stress fracture in his left foot and is expected to miss two to three weeks.

- The Nittany Lions scored 37 points over the final 12 minutes of the game after having scored just 29 in the previous 28 minutes.

- The Nittany Lions will face Nicholls State on Wednesday for a 7:30 PM tip-off at the Bryce Jordan Center.

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