It was more like a Maine event, as the Nittany Lions regrouped after a crushing loss to Southeastern Louisiana seven days earlier and then a week off for finals to bag the Black Bears, 75-42. Junior forward Geary Claxton led PSU (8-4) with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
I told them I was proud of the way they came out and played, Lion coach Ed DeChellis said of his team. I thought we had pretty good energy today.
It's a confidence-builder, sophomore guard Danny Morrissey added. Especially coming off a loss. You want to come out and beat a team as bad as you can. You kind of want to take it out on a team. I think we did a good job of that.
Penn State looked a bit rusty early on, throwing the ball away five times in the game's first seven minutes. But Maine (5-6) was icy from the field and could not take advantage of the mistakes, hitting only 1 of its first 9 shots and missing its first four free throws.
The Nittany Lions never trailed in the half as the lead moved between five and 10 before State finally put things together with nine minutes left before the break. Claxton and Jamelle Cornley paced an 11-0 run that saw some terrific ball movement. Guard Mooch Jackson capped the flurry with a dunk off a steal to make it 33-12 with 3:13 showing.
That was exciting to see Morrissey said with a smile. We didn't even know he could dunk.
The lead was 35-19 at the break and PSU didn't let up. With four minutes gone by in the second half, the Lions scored seven straight, including a fastbreak pass from Mike Walker to Milos Bogetic for a layup and 50-26 lead, and fans began heading out to finish their last-minute holiday shopping.
DeChellis, meanwhile, was able to celebrate one of the best all-around efforts by his team this season. After the shaky start, Penn State regrouped and was efficient offensively the rest of the way. The Lions had 21 assists on 27 hoops in the game, and the big men shared the ball extremely well.
Defensively, the Lions allowed the Black Bears to make just 25 percent of their shots.
While it is tempting to write this game off as a beatdown of an overmatched mid-major, PSU's performances against the previous two America East opponents on the slate would suggest it is a positive step. The Lions lost to Stony Brook and nipped Hartford, both at home.
And DeChellis would be the last coach to look a gift win in the mouth. Especially at this time of year.
If you don't win this, you're miserable for three days, he said. It's nice to be a normal guy for two days so I can enjoy [the holiday].
Guard Ben Luber started for the Lions after missing the previous two games with tendonitis of the left ankle. PSU didn't really need him in this one, which was a good thing because he clearly was not back to full speed. Playing with a heavy brace on his ankle, his first three shots were all short and he had a pair of turnovers in 14 first-half minutes. Luber only played four minutes in the second half because the score was so lopsided.
The lead reached 31 on a Morrissey jumper with 7:55 to go. DeChellis didn't clear his bench until the 5:44 mark but every Lion who played scored except Luber and walk-on Will Leiner.
DeChellis said he is leaning toward redshirting injured freshman D.J. Jackson, who has not played since the third game of the season due to a stress fracture in his left leg.
The Lions get a couple of days off for the holidays before regrouping the night of Dec. 27 to begin preparing for high-scoring VMI next Saturday.