Lions Drop Tough One to Hawkeyes

In Saturday's matinee against Iowa at the Jordan Center, hard-luck Penn State learned yet again that to beat the better programs in the Big Ten, it is allowed no margin for error.

How else to explain the 80-76 loss to the Hawkeyes, in which the Nittany Lions (9-5, 1-2) dominated the glass, committed a season-low nine turnovers and generated a load of great shots against the league's second-best scoring defense?

State's undoing? Key mistakes in each of the aforementioned areas in the game's final minute.

“It's all about making plays at the right time,” Lion coach Ed DeChellis said. “And we didn't do that.”

“It hurts because we were right there,” added freshman forward Jamelle Cornley, who led PSU with a career-high 20 points.

Indeed they were. The Lions trailed by as many as 10 in the first half and nine in the second before rallying behind reserve guard Mike Walker and a fired-up crowd of 8,293. Walker's 3-pointer on a fastbreak with 3:51 left gave State a 68-66 lead and it was tight the rest of the way.

Part of the key to the Lions' success was keeping Iowa — which had a huge height advantage over PSU's front line of three 6-foot-5 players — off the offensive glass. The Hawkeyes had one offensive rebound in the first half and a total of three as the clock clicked under two minutes in the game.

“No one has done that to us all year,” Hawk coach Steve Alford said.

Down 70-69, Iowa's Adam Haluska (a game-high 29 points) missed a jumper from the left corner. Erek Hansen, a 6-11 center, grabbed the rebound and converted a conventional 3-point play to make it 72-70 in favor of the Hawkeyes.

Then, with PSU up 73-72 with less than a minute to go, Haluska missed again. This time 6-7 Greg Brunner got the offensive board. He made two free throws after he was fouled to make it 74-73, and DeChellis would later refer to it as the killer play in the game.

“We were one rebound away from winning,” he said.

But the Lions weren't dead yet. On the other end, forward Geary Claxton sealed Haluska in the paint. In a play that has been a staple of Penn State offenses for decades now, Cornley took the ball at the elbow and attempted to wrap a pass in to Claxton. The ball bounced straight out of bounds for PSU's ninth and final turnover of the day.

“It was a little low on my part and he got held up by Haluska,” Cornley said. “I take the blame.”

Penn State quickly fouled guard Jeff Horner, who made both ends to give Iowa a 76-73 lead with 34.4 showing. On the floor at the time for the Lions: Cornley (20 points), Travis Parker (19), Walker (14), Claxton (12) and point guard Ben Luber (three points on 1 of 5 shooting).

The idea was for Luber to drive and kick out to one of the scorers for a 3-pointer. But the 6-0 guard took matters into his own hands, drove the lane and attempted to throw a shot over Hansen, the Big Ten leader (by far) in blocks. Hansen made short work of Luber's attempt, knocking it right to Haluska who was quickly fouled.

Asked if that was the shot he wanted, DeChellis shook his head as if to say no. “He just took a tough shot,” the coach explained.

Haluska made one of two for a 77-73 lead and Iowa did what it had to in the final 20 seconds to improve to 13-4 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten.

“It seemed like we were always one bounce away,” DeChellis said.

And with no margin for error, it is difficult to win when those bounces go the other way.

GAME NOTES: Penn State's Orange Bowl champion football team was honored at halftime of the game. Justin King, Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, Tim Shaw and Jay Alford tossed Oranges to the crowd after the brief ceremony, prompting someone on press row to say, “lucky they didn't win the Gator Bowl.” … Next up for Penn State is Purdue at the Jordan Center Wednesday. The game tips at 6 p.m.


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