Penn State stepped on Division II Edinboro, 71-53, in its exhibition opener at the Jordan Center Wednesday night. But the story of the night was not what the Nittany Lions won, but rather who they lost.
Standout junior forward Geary Claxton, who was named a first-team preseason All-Big Ten pick Sunday, injured his right hand midway though the first half. He left the game at the next dead ball and spent the rest of the half on the bench, his hand wrapped in ice.
X-rays at halftime revealed a broken small finger on his right (shooting) hand. Claxton is expected to miss three weeks of action.
"He'll be out for a few weeks, and it will be week to week after that," fourth-year coach Ed DeChellis said. "He'll be on the shelf for at least two weeks, then we'll take it week to week.
I would think that's a major hiccup, DeChellis added when asked what impact the injury would have on his team. I think that's a little bit of a situation.
DeChellis noted that Claxton had been remarkably injury free during his career, having started every game to this point. The break Wednesday happened on a freak play. With 12 minutes left in the first half, sophomore forward Joonas Suotamo missed a 3-pointer.
Claxton swooped in and tipped the miss for a basket, in the process smashing his hand against the rim. Thirty seconds later, there was a media timeout. Claxton showed DeChellis the injury and the coach quickly sent him to the team doctors.
Sophomore Danny Morrissey, a natural guard, started in place of Claxton in the second half. With no other player on the roster fitting Claxton's natural small forward style, DeChellis said he will be forced to go with three guards (meaning Morrissey starting) and perhaps shifting true freshman power forward D.J. Jackson to the three position for spot action.
Jackson has played no small forward in the preseason, however, so DeChellis said, we'll probably go with three guards before we move [Jackson].
Claxton was not available for comment after the game. But fellow forward Jamelle Cornley, who led 12 PSU scorers with 10 points, said Claxton told him, I'll be all right.
Morrissey, who missed the entire 2005-06 season with a knee injury, added that Penn State is not about one person. we'll miss him, but we'll be OK.
As for the game, it was pretty much the mismatch everyone expected. Despite substituting freely throughout, DeChellis' squad led by as many as 18 in the first half and 30 in the second half before the Fighting Scots scrapped back against PSU's deep reserves.
Starting guards Ben Luber and Mooch Jackson logged 24 and 22 minutes respectively, but no one else broke the 20-minute mark. Highlights included Morrissey hitting 2-of-5 3-pointers, D.J. Jackson grabbing eight rebounds, and the team combining for 18 assists and just nine turnovers.
Lowlights included giving up 14 offensive boards to undersized Edinboro, shooting 30.8 percent from the arc for the game and Mooch Jackson turning an ankle with five minutes left in the second half.
Luckily for PSU, that injury was not nearly as serious as Claxton's.
But that hardly numbed the sting for DeChellis on a night when a little finger was the big story.
That's what I said before we walked out [onto the floor], DeChellis said. I just hope no one gets hurt.
If Claxton indeed misses three weeks, that would put his return at about Nov. 21, when the Lions play host to Bucknell. They have an exhibition game with Shippensburg next Wednesday, then regular-season home matchups with Morehead State, UNC Greensboro and Stony Brook before facing Bucknell.
Junior center Brandon Hassell skipped the game with a bulging disc. DeChellis said he is day-to-day.
Edinboro's Daren Tielsch, who began his career at Penn State way back in 2001-02, is the Fighting Scots' best player. At 6-foot-8, he is listed at 230 pounds but is clearly closer to the 260-range these days. The only time he was able to get anything going in the first half is when he muscled in a couple of buckets over PSU rookie Andrew Jones. Tielsch finished with 15 points on 7 -of-19 shooting.