Hoop Team Bags Nicholls State

Nittany Lions, led by a strong effort from their bench, destroy the Colonels in pre-holiday roundball action at the BJC. With the 93-56 victory, Penn State improves to 2-0 for the first times since 2000-01.

Guns N Roses' “Welcome to the Jungle” blared over the Jordan Center sound system before Penn State's Wednesday evening game against Nicholls State, reverberating at painful decibel levels in the near-empty arena.

But the rock anthem didn't quite capture the spirit of the night. “Welcome to the Forest” would have been more like it. Because like the central Pennsylvania woods that surround it, the BJC was relatively desolate and quiet as could be.

And this is, after all, the Nittany Lions' version of turkey season, with the now 0-3 Colonels filling the role of second course among the three home gobblers to open the campaign.

Nicholls, looking every bit as lost in these parts as you'd expect of an overmatched outfit from the swamps of Thibodaux, La., was a gracious guest, putting up the obligatory early scrap before being overwhelmed by the rebuilding Nittany Lions, 93-56.

Penn State, which received eight or more points from seven players as third-year coach Ed DeChellis substituted early and often, improved to 2-0 on the season for the first time since 2000-01. Of the four Lions who reached doubles, three were reserves (led by freshman forward Jamelle Cornley's 17). Every healthy player on the roster scored.

Which is the idea behind a toned-down nonconference schedule that continues here Saturday with a visit from Long Island.

“It's important to develop some confidence,” said DeChellis, whose team, coming off back-to-back last-place Big Ten finishes, features five scholarship true freshman and a junior college transfer. “That's why we're trying to play some things at home and get some things going.”

If there was tipping points in this one, other than the day the contract was signed, it came late in the first half. Penn State was up 36-25 with 4:51 to go, but its entire starting frontcourt was on the bench with a pair of fouls each. Cornley and fellow rookie reserve Milos Bogetic both went to work in the paint, hitting the Colonels with more muscle and finesse than they could handle in an 11-0 burst.

The lead was 51-27 at the break, as Cornley had 13 points and three assists, and Bogetic had 10 points and nine rebounds.

“I think they complemented each other well tonight,” DeChellis said.

Added Bogetic: “They told me I'm supposed to rebound and play defense. So that's what I do.”

After tallying 50 or more in a first half for the first time since 2002, Penn State was not nearly as sharp in the second, committing eight of its 13 turnovers in the period. But Nicholls, which had already been blown out at LSU and Indiana, was even worse, throwing away the ball 16 times. And as such, the Colonels could never get closer than 22 in the final 20 minutes.

DeChellis took the opportunity to rest star swingman Geary Claxton, who logged only 20 minutes the entire game. He finished with eight points, two fewer than backup Cilk McSweeney.

The other frontcourt starters — sophomore center Brandon Hassell and forward Travis Parker — logged 18 and 15 minutes, respectively. Truth be told, neither looked as effective as their replacements.

And that's something new for Penn State, where in recent years a series of injuries and departures resulted in little production from the pine.

“This just shows we can go eight or nine deep if we have to,” said junior guard David Jackson, the only starter in doubles with a dozen points, eight assists and no turnovers.

"I just hope the young kids keep doing what they're doing,” DeChellis added.

For the holiday, the Nittany Lions will practice early in the afternoon before heading en masse to DeChellis' house for Thanksgiving dinner. Asked if the coach was cooking the bird, Bogetic deadpanned, “I hope not.”

Roasting turkeys may not be his specialty. But DeChellis has been pretty effective at bagging them this season. He's also done a good job of keeping his team's 2-0 start in perspective.

“This is not fool's gold,” he said, the clear implication being that much more serious challenges await his club.

NOTES: Attendance was listed at 5,259 but may have been half of that. There were 273 people in the bowl of the arena 25 minutes before tip (we counted). … PSU sophomore guard Mike Walker turned his left ankle in the first half and did not play in the second half for precautionary reasons. DeChellis said he should be fine for the weekend's action. … The Lions' 29 assists were four off the school record, set against Colgate in 1981. … Penn State's holiday turkey shoot continues Saturday when LIU visits the BJC for a 3:30 p.m. tip.

Season Extended Box Scores.


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