While hardly a sign that the Nittany Lions have turned things completely around following a disappointing 11-19 showing in 2006-07, it was at least a step in the right direction. Last year, State dropped an exhibition game to D-II Shippensburg.
And after watching Big Ten powers Michigan State and Ohio State both lose exhibition tilts to lower division programs this season, PSU coach Ed DeChellis was not about to complain about Wednesday's victory.
The guys know we laid an egg last year, DeChellis said, referring to the exhibition loss in 2006. I think they played well and responded.
Added junior guard Danny Morrissey, who led PSU with 17 points, That's something a lot of the veteran guys commented on. We didn't want a repeat of that.
It was not all good news on this night, though. With starting power forward Jamelle Cornley already out indefinitely with a bruised knee, his primary backup, redshirt freshman D.J. Jackson, missed this game, too. Jackson has not practiced since last Friday due to pain in the area of the left leg where he sustained a season-ending stress fracture last year.
It's a big concern, DeChellis said, adding that he is not certain when Jackson will be able to return.
The Lions did not need their two best post scorers in this one. They are clearly much more athletic than they were a season ago and used that speed to force three early turnovers and to generate wide-open shots in starting the game with a 13-0 burst.
At the first media timeout, DeChellis replaced everyone but Claxton. The new lineup — featuring speedy guards Stanley Pringle and Talor Battle — struggled to find a rhythm initially, and The Rock climbed within 16-12.
But Battle revved things up with a steal and dunk. He had another steal and score with seven minutes to go in the first half, by which time State led 33-14. Slippery Rock finished with 16 turnovers in the first half.
More importantly, Penn State had 11 steals in the first half, four of them by Battle. Pringle did not have a steal in the game, but he pressured people all over the floor. Both players attacked offensively, creating wide-open looks for Morrissey (5 of 6 on 3-pointers) and Walker (3 of 8 from the arc).
I shot the ball well, but it's easy when you have guys who penetrate, Morrissey said. They're huge in our offense, as well as defensively. It's something we didn't have here last year. It adds a whole new dimension.
Slippery Rock must have felt like it was in a whole new dimension, too. After giving St. Bonaventure a 75-68 scare last week, Coach Jamal Palmer's outfit came to the Jordan Center hoping to spring an eye-popping upset.
But despite being shorthanded on the front line, the Lions were simply too quick, zipping around their opponent as if it were well a rock. State led by as many as 43 in the second half before DeChellis cleared his bench.
The only two active Lions who did not score were freshman center Andrew Jones (he fouled out after only 10 minutes) and walk-on forward Steve Kirkpatrick.
Preseason is over now, DeChellis said. We're going to start playing for real Monday night.
St. Francis (Pa.) visits the BJC in the season-opener Monday. The game tips at 7 p.m.
Battle went 0-7 from the arc, but DeChellis said his rookie guard has generally been shooting well in the preseason. Battle took 17 shots in the game, making seven.
Battle and Pringle led the Lions with 26 and 24 minutes, respectively. No one else played more than 21.
Claxton, the preseason All-Big Ten pick, had eight points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 21 minutes.
The Rock was stone cold from the arc, making only 1 of 12 shots.