Backcourt Depth Fuels Hoop Win

Mike Walker comes up big as the Nittany Lions beat Morgan State at the Jordan Center Saturday afternoon. The junior scores 16 points and State gets a strong effort from the front court in improving to 5-2 on the season.

Penn State wasn't operating at full strength against Morgan State at the Jordan Center Saturday, as injuries limited the second-half playing time of guards Ben Luber and Danny Morrissey.

Luckily for Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis, the program now has a bit of depth, especially in the backcourt, and it helped PSU to pull away for an 80-71 victory.

After being held scoreless in the previous two games, junior guard Mike Walker pumped in 16 points off the bench in this one. Coupled with a dominating performance by the big men, it allowed PSU to improve to 5-2 while the Bears fell to 0-6.

“It's important to have somebody step up every night,” DeChellis said. “That how you win. … A guy comes off the bench like Mike and gives you a great night, gives you 16 points, that's the difference between winning and losing.”

Morgan State kept it close through the first 12 minutes of the second half. But, unlike their embarrassing losses to Shippensburg (exhibition) and Stoney Brook, the Nittany Lions never seemed in danger of dropping this one.

Luber came into the game leading the Big Ten in minutes played, but an elbow to the face sent him to the bench early in the second half. Morrissey, meanwhile, saw only spot action due to a sore neck.

So Mooch Jackson took over at the point and Walker at shooting guard, and - offensively, at least - things operated smoothly. Jackson had four assists and one turnover on the day while Walker missed his first three 3-pointers but made three straight after that.

The front wall of Jamelle Cornley, Brandon Hassell and Geary Claxton was generally impressive, as well, combining for 47 points, 24 rebounds and nine assists.

A Cornley stickback gave PSU a 56-52 lead with 7:31 left, then he scored in the lane and Claxton scored off a pass from Hassell to make it 60-52. Boubacar Coly responded with a power move to the hole - two of the Bears' 28 points in the paint - to slow the rally.

But then Walker popped in his final triple of the game to make it 63-54 with 5:14 showing, giving the Lions enough breathing room that they could coast to the win.

While PSU's backcourt depth should translate into more wins for the program, Walker admitted it's been an adjustment not knowing exactly what his role might be on a given night. He hit the game-winning 3-pointer in a thrilling win over Bucknell Nov. 12, but then attempted a total of five shots against St. Joe's and Georgia Tech.

“It's difficult,” Walker said. “But it's something the coaches prepared me for. … We've never really had all four or five guards healthy, so this is the first time. It's something I've prepared for.”

Added DeChellis: “Mike's a great kid. Mike just wants to win and Mike will do whatever the team needs him to do. He's a team guy and always has been.”

GAME NOTES:

• Four-star football recruit Devon Still was in the house on an official visit to Penn State. The lineman from Wilmington, Del., took in the first half with Lion gridder Lydell Sargeant and PSU football assistant Ron Vanderlinden.

• Luber was knocked out of the game with 16:58 left when he … uh … smashed his face into Coly's elbow beneath the MSU basket. Luber was called for a foul and Coly made one of two free throws. After getting the once over from the medical staff, Luber spent the rest of the game on the bench with a dazed look on his face. DeChellis said the medical staff will re-evaluate Luber in the next day or so.

• Morgan State made 46.6 percent of its shots in the game, prompting DeChellis to criticize his team's defense. “We aren't a team right now that has defensive energy.”

• Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, who was essentially banned from the profession for eight years by the NCAA due to recruiting violations committed during his tenure at Cal, on being back in the game: “I might be the happiest 0-6 guy you've ever seen in your life. I'm happy to be back. I kicked at the door for 10 years, so 0-6 is not going to make me crazy.”

• Next up for Penn State is a home game with Hartford Wednesday. The action tips at 7:30 p.m.

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