PSU Crushed at Home Again

Struggling Nittany Lion hoop squad continues to have its issues at the Jordan Center, this time falling to Illinois while being heckled by a clever group of Illini students.

Penn State's Geary Claxton put up a shot in the lane against Illinois at the Jordan Center Saturday. It was swatted by Marcus Arnold, prompting a vocal delegation of Illini students at the far end of the floor to break into a chant.

"Not in YOUR house! Not in YOUR house!" the block of blaze orange bellowed.

It was that kind of day for the Nittany Lions (10-17, 1-13), who dropped their 13th straight game, this time by a score of 68-50.

And it's been that kind of season, a campaign that has seen Ed DeChellis' squad undressed on its home floor time and again. If you are keeping score in your home, Penn State has now lost eight games at the BJC -- nine counting an exhibition pratfall to Division II Shippensburg.


Danny Morrissey tries
a tough shot.

The Lions have lost home games to the good (top-ranked Ohio State and Wisconsin), the bad (9-18 Stony Brook) and now the ugly (an Illinois team ranking 10th in the Big Ten in scoring offense).

"I don't know what it is," DeChellis said when asked about the lack of a home-court edge. "… I don't know how to respond."

This much is known: The Lion players have been out-played in the building. The coaching staff has been out-coached. And Saturday — again — the PSU student section had its collective head handed to it by a much smaller contingent of opposing student fans.

Nearly 100 members of the "Orange Crush" used a ruse (more on that later) to secure seats behind the basket near the Lion bench. After making the 12-hour bus ride from Champaign, they repeatedly taunted the PSU players and student section.

God knows they had plenty of material.

Winners of 5 of 6 coming in, the Illini (21-9, 9-6) are fighting for an NCAA tournament bid, and it showed early. They made 5 of their first 6 shots in blasting out to an 11-2 lead, the last bucket in the run an alley-oop dunk by Brian Randle.

Truth be told, that was pretty much it for the Nittany Lions.

The lead reached 16, 25-9, midway though the first half when Warren Carter made a hook shot. PSU kept things from getting out of hand the rest of the period, but every time it threatened to make things interesting the Illini got their act together and pulled away.


Warren Carter.

It was 42-30 early in the second half when the Lions stopped playing defense for a spell. Illinois hammered home four straight dunks — State's only bucket in the stretch was a David Jackson layup — to boost the lead to 50-32.

"We weren't rotating quickly enough and getting back on defense," Claxton said. And it only got more dismal.

With just under eight minutes left and PSU trailing 55-39, guard Mike Walker had a steal near midcourt. The Lions had a three-on-nothing break, with Claxton and center Brandon Hassell trailing Walker toward the basket with the Orange Crush kids behind it.

Walker passed to Hassell for what figured to be an easy dunk. But the big man fumbled the ball and booted it harmlessly out of bounds.

"That's kind of been the theme for us," Walker said.

As the Orange Crush erupted in laughter, Penn State fans began heading for the exits. But the Nittany Lion student section remained, perhaps to pick up a few pointers from their creative counterparts.

The Orange Crush, you see, are a clever bunch, scoring their block of seats by phoning the PSU ticket office and posing as a group from one of Penn State's branch campuses. They entered the Jordan Center wearing blue jackets and sweatshirts before pulling them off in unison shortly before tipoff, revealing the bright orange gear.

Of course, there could be another reason the Penn State students stayed until the end. With just over two minutes to go, DeChellis replaced Jackson, a senior, with sophomore guard Jordan Norwood, who is on loan from the Nittany Lion football program.


Jordan Norwood (44).

It got the biggest rise of the day from the PSU students, who chanted "JOR-DAN NOR-WOOD! … JOR-DAN NOR-WOOD!"

Yes, it may be a difficult year for Penn State at the Jordan Center. But the student fans can take solace on one front: spring football practice starts in less than a month.

GAME NOTES

• Penn State celebrated Senior Day before the game. Jackson and Ben Luber were both presented with customary letter blankets. Both players started, but PSU called timeout five seconds into the game to remove Luber, who sprained tendons in his left wrist in a loss at Ohio State Wednesday. The injury in effect ended his PSU career, with Saturday's brief action serving as a ceremonial farewell.

• Walker replaced Luber and played one of his best games of the season. He scored a team-high 14 points (he was 4 of 6 from the arc) and had six assists and one turnover.

• Illinois scored 36 points in the paint, and the starting frontcourt of Carter (17 points), Randle (10) and Shaun Pruitt (20 points) went a collective 20 of 29 (69 percent) from the floor.


Shaun Pruitt.

• Claxton was 4 of 12 from the floor and fellow forward Jamelle Cornley was 2 of 6. Cornley left the game with a few minutes to go with a hip pointer.

• Hassell returned to the starting lineup, replacing Milos Bogetic. He finished with five turnovers in 13 minutes. Bogetic had one of his worst games, too, going 1 of 6 from the floor. Both struggled defensively.

• DeChellis said Luber's injury may force the staff to get more out of Norwood, the moonlighting wide receiver. Norwood played two minutes at the point Saturday but did not register any stats.

• Penn State plays host to Iowa Wednesday in a game that tips at 7 p.m. Senior Day was held Saturday because it is easier for the families of the graduating players to make it to campus on the weekend.

See Penn State's Season Box Scores Here.

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