Nittany Lions Go Down Swinging

Penn State brought down the curtains in the upper deck of the Jordan Center Tuesday, forcing fans to cram into the lower level for the Nittany Lions' NIT matchup with Rutgers. Out on the floor, the Scarlet Knights brought down the curtain on PSU's season.

RU took advantage of State's horrid shooting early in the game, building a double-digit lead it carried well into the second half. Then it held off a press-fueled rally to walk away with a 76-71 victory as star guard Quincy Douby tossed in 32 points.

The Nittany Lions finished the year at 15-15 after losing an NIT home game for only the second time in school history. Yet as well as they played to make something of a game of it late, they were that bad early, converting 4 of their first 19 shots and 2 of their first 11 3-pointers.

“We didn't hustle, we didn't have any energy,” said senior forward Travis Parker, who led Penn State with 21 points and 12 rebounds in his collegiate swan song. “That's where we lost the game.”

On both ends of the floor. Despite the ugly start, the Lions trailed by a bucket, 16-14, midway through the first half. Better still, the arena was rocking with the best student crowd in years and Douby had yet to heat up, with only three points.

But then Douby bombed in a 3-pointer from the left corner, and Penn State panicked. It became so concerned with stopping the Big East's leading scorer that huge cracks materialized in the zone, and Jimmie Inglis hit back-to-back layups to make it 23-14. Then Jaron Griffin broke free for a layup and J.R. Inman made a 3-pointer to blow it open.

Penn State never fully recovered from the 28-14 deficit. It trailed 40-28 at the break, at which time Ed DeChellis had already taken his team out of the hemorrhaging zone. Douby and Marquis Webb each hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the second half to push the lead to 52-33.

“Offensively we couldn't score, and defensively we didn't do anything we talked about doing,” DeChellis said.

Added point guard Ben Luber, who had 17 points and no turnovers but struggled trying to stop the smooth-scoring Douby man-to-man: “You can't be down 20 in the second half and expect to win.”


Ben Luber.

To their credit, the Lions at least tried. To force the pace and create more possessions, DeChellis went with a full-court press, with burly 6-foot-5 forward Jamelle Cornley at the point. The spirited crowd in the tight lower bowl quarters help jack up the intensity.

It worked initially, as State went on a 17-4 run to cut the margin to 56-50 on a pair of Geary Claxton free throws at 6:57.

“We figured if we were gonna lose, we were gonna lose swinging,” Cornley said.

The edge was still at six, 65-59, with two minutes to go and Penn State in possession. Mike Walker tried to throw a pass to Parker, but it bounced out of bounds instead. Walker and DeChellis said a Rutgers player deflected it. The officials said otherwise. Replays were inconclusive.

The Penn State fans were furious, and several “rally towels” were hurled on the court during the dead ball, drawing a stern warning from the PA announcer that PSU could be hit with a technical foul for the actions of the crowd. Lion football assistant coach Mike McQueary, sitting courtside in front of the students, stood and motioned for everyone to calm down.

It was as wild a scene as the Jordan Center has ever seen for Penn State basketball game. But despite all of the dramatics, Walker as reluctant to use the play as an excuse. “Those are the breaks,” he said.

When play resumed, Douby faked Luber and pulled up from behind the arc. Swish. The score was 68-59 and it was clear Penn State's season was about to end.

It was bittersweet for the Lions, who showed marked improvement after a four straight single-digit campaigns but capped this one far earlier than they hoped to.

“I'm upset now because we lost, and I think we could have made a good run in the NIT,” said Parker, the only PSU player being lost to graduation. “So I have a bad taste in my mouth now and I'm going to have it for a while. But we accomplished a lot from last year and I'm proud to be a part of that.”

GAME NOTES

• Rutgers (19-13) advances to play St. Joe's in Philadephia Thursday night.

• Webb played man defense on Claxton for most of the night and held PSU's leading scorer to 10 points.

• Attendance was listed at 6,770, and the number appeared to be accurate.

• Former Lions Michael Robinson, Matthew Rice and Lavon Chisley were in the house, and watched the game from an athletic department box.

• See the box score here.

• See Penn State's final season stats here.

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