Nittany Lions Pound Purdue at the BJC

For a night, Ed DeChellis' vision for Penn State in the Big Ten came to fruition. The Nittany Lions alternated between six different defenses, including an effective press, forcing the tempo to gain a season-high 12 steals. They dunked in transition, threw down an alley-oop jam in the half-court game and forced 19 turnovers.

Oh yeah, and they hammered Purdue at the Jordan Center Wednesday night, 74-54, their first 20-point victory over a conference team in half a decade. Sophomore forward Geary Claxton led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman post Jamelle Cornley was close behind with 18 points.

“We haven't been able to play that way,” said DeChellis, whose team (10-5, 2-2) was coming off a wrenching loss to Iowa at the BJC Saturday. “I think it's positive. It's uncharted waters for us.”

Though the Boilermakers (7-9, 1-4) were fresh off a 17-point home victory over Minnesota, they proved to be the perfect opponent at the perfect time for PSU. Purdue ranked a distant last in the league in turnover margin (-4.53) and proved time and again to be susceptible to pressure defense.

The Lions rotated between multiple zones (including an effective 1-3-1), two presses and occasional man-to-man, and thoroughly rattled first-year coach Matt Painter's outfit.

“There is no doubt we struggled against [the 1-3-1] and the press,” he said. “And we spent unbelievable time preparing for that 1-3-1.”

DeChellis also spent extra time preparing to use it and the presses, figuring it would be the perfect opportunity to give his troops a glimpse of what he plans to do more often in the future.

“They are starting to understand what it can do,” DeChellis said. “They are starting to believe this can be fun. … It's high-risk, high-reward defense.”

“I think it is the most we've pressed,” Cornley said. “It's fun. … It got us some deflections and led to some key buckets.”

One of those key scores came late in the first half. Trailing 33-27, Boilermaker Bryant Dillon broke free for what appeared to be a layup. But Claxton swooped in from the weak side and blocked the shot straight to PSU guard Mike Walker. Walker kicked ahead to Cornley, who dunked as time expired in the first half for a 35-27 lead.

Painter called it the “key play of the game” because it sent his team to the locker room in a daze. Purdue showed some fight early in the second half, keeping the lead under 10 for the first four minutes before cracking vs. the pressure. “You expect your guys to play a little bit harder,” Painter said.

That wasn't a problem for DeChellis. And it has not been since the Lions opened Big Ten play with an embarrassing 104-69 loss at Ohio State Jan. 5. They've since gone 2-1, their only loss by four (80-76) to the talented Hawkeyes.

Will that continue with a brutal stretch on the horizon, starting with a rematch against the No. 19 Buckeyes at the BJC Saturday at noon and followed by games at No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 11 Michigan State?

DeChellis is realistic enough to know what lies ahead, and as such said “you gotta get this one” heading into the Purdue game. And he knows his team is not athletic enough to pressure the upcoming foes the way it did the Boilermakers. But the plucky Lions can unveil the press in spots, “like guerillas, we want to hit and get out.”

And they can continue to mix and match defenses. And they can build toward rolling out this kind of style every night somewhere down the line.

“That's the way the game needs to be played,” DeChellis said.

GAME NOTES: Walker had 10 points and five assists off the bench of the Lions. He has been the team's most productive guard the past few games. … Senior forward Matt Kiefer and UConn transfer Marcus White each had 13 for the Boilermakers. … Penn State's last win of 20 or more in the league: 92-71 over Purdue at the BJC Feb. 17, 2001. … The Lions' 10 wins this year are the most since they captured 21 in 2000-01.

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