Ed DeChellis' outfit dominated the lane in the second half on both ends. Senior guard Mooch Jackson deftly handled the point in the absence of injured starter Ben Luber, too, as PSU overcame a 29-28 halftime deficit to cruise to its widest margin of victory this year.
We came out with a little energy and jumped on them, DeChellis said after PSU improved to 7-3. The Blackbirds fell to 4-6.
But the game looked like it would be anything but a blowout in the first half. Junior forward Geary Claxton was once again unstoppable for PSU, scoring 13 points to go along with six rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Yet the Lions played poor defense in the lane, allowing LIU to score 18 points in the paint. PSU had two points in the paint at the break.
The rebound battle was tied 17-17, as the Blackbirds took their lead into the locker room after getting a second-chance 3-pointer from Aubin Scott to beat the buzzer.
That was one of the things coached yelled at us about, Jackson said.
I was really disappointed in our post play, DeChellis added. Our posts played really poorly in the first half.
Forward Jamelle Cornley and center Brandon Hassell were both frustrated in the first 20 minutes by a collapsing man defense that held them scoreless. The key adjustment was to show more patience, get the ball in their hands away from the bucket, and let them attack.
And so it was that Cornley missed a short baseline jumper to start the second half. Hassell swooped in to jam home the rebound for a 30-29 lead, and it was as if that one play turned things around.
By the 11:24 mark, Penn State had scored 10 more points in the paint and had a 48-33 lead. With the working margin, the Lions were patient offensively the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Jackson shadowed LIU guard James Williams' all game, holding the Blackbirds' leading scorer to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting (1-of-8 from the arc).
I just think Mooch did a good job of getting into him, DeChellis said.
Jackson learned that an aunt had died earlier in the day. Coupled with the fact that he had to move over from shooting guard to fill in for Luber, he was especially motivated to play well.
He responded with 12 points, two steals, two assists and no turnovers, a key considering PSU's recent issues with miscues.
We just have to value the ball, he said.
Claxton finished with his second straight monster game, following up the career-high 29 he scored in a loss at Seton Hall Saturday with 21 points and 13 rebounds in this one. As satisfying as that was, the easy victory meant more.
It felt good to win big, Claxton said.
Luber has what is now being described as left ankle tendonitis. It flared up before practice Tuesday. He had started 32 straight games but is now listed as day-to-day. PSU previously reported the injury as an impingement.
Penn State outrebounded Long Island 22-5 in the second half.
The Nittany Lions had only 11 turnovers in the game and five of them were by Cornley.
PSU's widest margin of victory before this was in the opener against Morehead State (63-46).
LIU's point total was its lowest of the year.
Penn State plays host to Southeastern Louisiana Saturday in a game that tips at 4 p.m., then take off a week for finals.