Penn State stepped up in class at the Jordan Center Tuesday night, facing a major-conference test for the first time this season. And the rebuilding Nittany Lions were promptly schooled, falling to Clemson, 96-88, in an affair that wasn't nearly that close.
This game, part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, featured a pair of teams yet to prove themselves against legit competition, as PSU came in 3-0 and the Tigers 4-0. State was completely unprepared for the step-up, committing 11 turnovers (leading to 16 Clemson points) in the first nine minutes while falling behind 27-19.
The Tigers, meanwhile, must be wondering how good they are after getting no defensive resistance on this night.
After building the early lead, they began dominating inside with tip-ins and outside with triples en route to making it a laugher before the break. The halftime box showed Clemson way in front in every hustle department, with 22 points off turnovers, 24 points from the bench, 11 second-chance points and a 7-of-21 showing from the arc.
Our keys going into the game were to take care of the ball and keep them off the glass, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. We didn't do that.
They pressured the ball and we made stupid mistakes, added junior guard Ben Luber.
The only Lion who got anything rolling in the first half was sophomore forward Geary Claxton, with a pair of loud dunks among his 6-of-9 shooting effort. He also had four rebounds. Oh yeah, and six turnovers, nearly half of the 14 the team committed.
So it was little wonder the lead mushroomed to 49-30 at intermission. The Tigers opened the second half with an uncontested 3-pointer from Vernon Hamilton that left DeChellis rubbing the back of his neck in frustration. The coach's body language didn't improve when Clemson's next four possessions featured three tip-ins and an uncontested steal and score that made it 60-34.
It was a blowout until, with the Tigers up 86-67 with 2:31 showing, Penn State began to press and foul. The hacking technique proved to be the Lions' most effective defensive approach of the night, as the Tigers kept missing free throws and PSU responded with a flurry of scoring. But even when the Lions cut it below double figures, one never got the sense Oliver Purnell's team was in trouble.
I really wasn't overly concerned, he said.
From a big-picture perspective, DeChellis didn't seem overly worried, either. Though his team learned the hard way this was not Cornell or Nicholls State or Long Island, it didn't roll over when it could have.
Guys didn't quit, DeChellis said. I think we learned a lot of things.
Much more frightening from PSU's perspective, while Clemson was indeed a big step up, this wasn't exactly an ACC power like Duke or Wake Forest handing the Lions their lunch, either. The Tigers went 5-11 in the league last season while finishing third from the bottom in the conference standings.
I think we needed this, DeChellis said. This is a whole different level from what we've played.
Claxton finished with a career-high 27 to lead Penn State, while David Jackson (15) and Travis Parker (14) both did most of their damage in the second half. Clemson had seven players with nine points or more, led by a trio (Hamilton, Shawan Robinson and Julius Powell) with 16 each.
NOTES: Penn State scored 58 points in the second half. And after turning the ball over 14 times in the first 20 minutes, the Lions only had two miscues the rest of the way. Penn State is at Texas A&M Saturday in a game that tips at 4 p.m. There is no television coverage.
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