Nittany Lions Lose at Buzzer

In what may have been the longest 0.6 seconds in program history, Penn State sees one slip away. The Nittany Lions fall to 7-4 on the season following their 69-66 loss to Southeastern Louisiana.

In real time, sixth-tenths of a second goes by in a flash. Snap your fingers and it's gone.

In basketball time, however, sixth-tenths of a second can take excruciatingly long to evaporate. Just ask Penn State's Ed DeChellis, whose team saw a potential win turn into a gut-churning loss in that scant timeframe at the Jordan Center Saturday afternoon.

“It's like everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” he explained after the Nittany Lions (7-4) dropped a 69-66 decision to Southeastern Louisiana (7-4) on a last-second 3-pointer.

“Some good fortune fell our way,” SLU coach Jim Yarbrough added. “…The basketball gods smiled on us.”

Penn State led 66-64 late, but with the clock winding down Nittany Lion guard David Jackson fouled Terry Bryant as he forced a shot in the lane. The shot missed, and with 0.6 seconds showing Bryant — a 91-percent free-throw shooter — swished both to tie.

Before Bryant shot, however, DeChellis substituted center Brandon Hassell for guard Danny Morrissey, figuring an extra rebounder would help prevent SLU from getting a game-tying or winning tip on a missed free throw. That substitution — in hindsight — turned out to be devastating.

Because after Bryant made the two shots, Penn State called timeout to set up a desperation attempt at a game-winner. But since no time had run off the clock, DeChellis could not re-insert Morrissey, the typical triggerman on inbound passes. And with this one coming from under the SLU basket, it was crucial to have an experienced hand doing throwing.

The idea was to have forward Geary Claxton come off a screen at the opposite free-throw line — more than three-quarters of the court away — and try to get off a shot or draw a foul. DeChellis said he won two games while at East Tennessee State using the same play.

But when Jackson fired the ball it went nowhere near Claxton, instead landing in the Penn State student section more than 20 feet away.

“I was telling myself, don't throw it out of bounds, don't throw it out of bounds,” Jackson said. “When I threw it, it [slipped] off my last two fingers and I knew it.”

Keep in mind, while all this was going on — from Jackson's foul to the Hassell sub to Bryant's free throws to Jackson's bad pass — the clock was frozen at 0.6. And since no one touched the ball on the long pass, SLU got it out under its own basket. With no timeouts left, it automatically went with something called “Play 5,” where a quick screen was supposed to lead to a tip near the hoop.

But Penn State had scouted the play “and they were calling it out,” Yarbrough said. Instead, guard Daryl Cohen darted to the left corner, took the inbound pass and fired just over Claxton's outstretched arm.

“Please go in,” Cohen said to himself as the final 0.6 finally came off the clock. The shot seemed to defy the laws of physics as it grazed off the backboard and in.

“We were looking for a tip to the rim and got an outside shot instead,” Yarbrough said. “It may be the biggest shot in the history of our school.”

Though the final 0.6 decided the game, Penn State hurt itself with bad decisions throughout. Cohen, for example, came in leading the Southland Conference in scoring (18 ppg.) and 3-pointers (41), and the athletic 6-foot-3, 195-pounder ripped the Lions early.

DeChellis began the game with his guards trying to cover Cohen one on one. He had 15 points in the first 13 minutes, going 7 of 10 from the floor and 4 of 6 from the arc in helping SLU build a 24-16 lead. Next, the Nittany Lions tried going zone. Cohen just stepped out beyond it, quickly catching and shooting back-to-back 3-pointers for a 30-20 edge.

Cohen had 21 points before Claxton — the team's best defender thanks to his long arms and quick feet — asked DeChellis if he could take a turn. Cohen did not get off a shot the rest of the half and did not score again until midway through the second half.

“We should have just pressured him from the beginning,” Claxton said.

DeChellis' rationale for not making the change sooner? He was worried about Claxton getting tired. But it seemed to have the opposite effect. Claxton scored only two points in the first half but helped PSU rally from as many as eight down in the second.

The score was tied 64-64 when the Nittany Lions called timeout with possession, 28.4 seconds left in the game and the shot clock off. The idea was to get the last shot and either win or force OT — not a bad alternative considering SLU's second-leading scorer (forward Quennell Green) had fouled out and Cohen had four fouls.

But PSU forward Jamelle Cornley got the ball on the baseline with 12 seconds to go and made a strong move to the basket. He was fouled with 9.7 seconds left and made both free throws for the 66-64 lead.

“We went too early,” DeChellis said, obviously weary of SLU's 3-point shooting prowess.

Then Jackson fouled Bryant on the last-second force. “We fouled the jump shooter, which is really tough,” DeChellis said.

Then the bad pass and then the crazy bank shot from the corner, the kind that never goes in.

“But it did tonight,” DeChellis said after the longest 0.6 seconds of his life. “That's kind of the way the day went.”

GAME NOTES:

• Penn State point guard Ben Luber missed his second straight game with tendonitis of the left ankle. DeChellis said he is day-to-day.

• Cohen had a game-high 29. To his credit, he did not force the action when Claxton clamped down on him.

• Cornley led the Nittany Lions with 18 on 8-of-11 shooting.

• Penn State shot 71.4 percent in the second half (15 of 21) and still lost.

• Jackson's rough night included 1-of-3 shooting, one assist and four turnovers in 28 minutes.

• Reserve guard Mike Walker had four points, four assists, one steal and only one turnover in 18 minutes.

• An unlikely scoring star for State in the first 20 minutes was backup big man Milos Bogetic, who beat his season high with 10 points. He finished with 12 points (5 of 6 from the floor) and three blocks.

• Penn State takes a week off for finals before playing host to Maine next Saturday.

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