Eighth-seeded Penn State improved to 15-13 on the season with the victory. Its immediate reward is a second-round matchup with No. 1 seed Ohio State in a noon game at Conseco Fieldhouse Friday. The Buckeyes had a bye in the first round.
The Lions' long-term reward will more than likely be an NIT bid.
Despite handling the Wildcats twice during the regular season 65-61 in Evanston Jan. 11 and 68-55 at the Jordan Center Feb. 25 State came into this game as a one-point underdog. It is difficult to figure Vegas' take, seeing how the Lions' zone defense, patient offense and attacking front line gave NU huge matchup problems less than two weeks earlier.
I didn't like the matchup when I saw it because we haven't played well against Penn State, NU coach Bill Carmody said. They seem to have our number.
It was more of the same at Conseco Thursday. The puzzled Wildcats managed 21 points in the first half and were stuck on 26 midway through the final period. Defensively, they had no answers for PSU sophomore forward Geary Claxton, who slashed his way to 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Penn State opened the game with a conventional 3-point play by Ben Luber and then got back-to-back triples from David Jackson and Claxton to build a 9-0 lead. The Nittany Lions' zone bottled up Vedran Vukusic and the Wildcats for the rest of the half, allowing the Big Ten's leading scorer to tally only four points and NU as a team to shoot 21 percent (3 of 14) from the arc.
If not for five turnovers that led to six Wildcat points as well as a 4-of-7 showing from the line, PSU's halftime margin would have been much larger than 31-21. NU forward Tim Doyle drew nothing but glass on a 3-point try to open the second half and it set an ominous tone for his club.
The Wildcats (14-15) shot four airballs in the final period, and when Vukusic picked up his fourth foul with 11 minutes to go and his team down 20, the game was effectively over.
Next up is a date with the Buckeyes, who are fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. In a twist of plots, Ohio State beat Penn State twice during the regular season, hammering the Lions in Columbus (104-69) Jan. 5 and winning 75-64 at he BJC 16 days later.
We've got to come out ready to play, DeChellis said. If we play lackadaisical, we're going to get blown out. We have to play hard as a team and have fun.
"I think they have a good chance tomorrow," Carmody added.
DeChellis said the week and a half layoff his team had before the tournament was a blessing: I think our kids had a little energy and pop to their step. It worked out well. Penn State had a bye on the last weekend of the regular season after playing 15 straight games.
Travis Parker and Mike Walker were also in doubles for the Lions with 10 points each.
PSU destroyed NU on the boards again, winning the battle 39-26.
The last time Penn State faced the No. 1 seed at Big Tens, it knocked off Ohio State (71-66) in 2000.
The Lions have advanced to the second round of the tournament twice before in the event's eight-year history and have never lost one of the Friday games.