Nittany Lions Lose Momentum

There are no off nights in the Big Ten. Then-No. 6 Illinois learned it the hard way Saturday, seeing its 33-game home winning streak end at the hands of rebuilding Penn State. And the Nittany Lions learned it the hard way Wednesday, sleepwalking to a 77-66 loss to league laggard Minnesota, which carried a 1-7 conference record into the contest.

The momentum gained from the stunning victory in Champaign was abruptly and definitively stamped out with the pratfall that dropped PSU to 11-10 on the season and 3-7 in the Big Ten. Third-year coach Ed DeChellis said the rough night was hardly unexpected given the way his troops practiced the previous two days.

“I saw it coming, and that's the frustrating part,” he explained. “I just didn't see the look that they were a hungry team. … Yesterday's practice was horrendous. … That's not knowing how to take a win and parlay it into another one.”

“It's disappointing,” added senior forward Travis Parker, the only Lion to play a strong all-around game with 19 points and nine rebounds. “This was a very important game.”

He was referring to making a run at the NIT, which would be PSU's first postseason showing since 2001. To assure themselves of such a bid heading into the Big Ten tournament, the Lions now must win three of their final six regular-season games, a serious challenge for an outfit that captured just three of its first 10 in the league.

Heading into this one, DeChellis and his staff plotted three primary areas of emphasis: Defensive transition, rebounding and playing with energy. In bolting out to a 10-0 lead, the Lions did well in all three department, forcing the Gophers into nine straight empty possessions.

But Minnesota (11-9, 2-7) broke the ice with a Maurice Hargrow free throw and then a Dan Coleman triple, starting a 10-0 run of its own and setting a long-distance tone for the game.

'We came out ready to play; it's 10-0,” Parker said. “Next thing we know, it's 10-10.”

And State never regained the edge to its game. There were seven ties and two lead changes in the first half, and, despite being hammered on the glass, the Lions somehow led 27-25 at the break. Then sixth-year senior guard Adam Boone went off, making 6 of 7 second-half 3-pointers.

Boone came into this one hitting 25.5 percent of his threes in league play. But the looks he was getting against the Lions' lazy zone were wide open, and he made them pay.

Thanks to Parker, State was in it until the 7:08 mark of the game. Then Boone bombed in triple to give the Gophers a 54-50 advantage. His back-to-back 3-pointers two minutes later made it 64-55 and sent fans streaming for the exits.

Penn State attempted to foul to work its way back into the game, figuring the Gophers (59 percent from the stripe in the conference) might crack. But they didn't.

As for DeChellis' keys to victory? The Lions gave up 16 points off turnovers and were burned time and again from the arc on the secondary break. They were slapped around in the rebounding department (37-23). And the energy all but evaporated along with the early 10-zip lead.

Players and coaches alike had hoped the Illinois victory, followed by a win over Minnesota, would generate some buzz for the program, leading to a strong crowd for Saturday's ESPN2 game against Wisconsin at the BJC.

But it did not work out that way.

Asked about DeChellis' post-game locker room speech, Parker replied, “He basically said we blew an opportunity for our season.”

“We can't get that back,” DeChellis said of the rare chance to build some positive momentum for his under-the-radar program.


• Penn State's guards combined for three rebounds in the game.

• Gopher Vincent Grier, a 56-percent free-throw shooter in the league, went 10 of 10 from the stripe in this one.

• Lion rookie forward Jamelle Cornley had nine points in the first half but finished with 10.

• The PSU-Wisconsin game tips at 4 p.m.

See the box score.


Fight On State Top Stories