The Nittany Lions made the most of their homecoming, using a Talor Battle driving layup with 38.7 seconds remaining to give them just enough breathing room in what became a 66-61 win.
State improved to 3-3 with the victory in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge while the Hokies fells to 2-3. And amazingly for the Lions, they did it with leading scorers Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley being held to a dozen points between them.
I think that's the difference in this team, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. this year we have a lot more weapons.
If someone told me we would have held Claxton and Cornley to eight and four points, I would have thought we would win, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg added.
Penn State also showed an ability to bounce back Wednesday, as a team and individually. After not playing a second in the final half of a loss to UCF at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando Sunday, senior guard Mike Walker poured in 17 points in this one, fueling key runs in both halves.
We just have a different attitude as a team, Walker said. He called the 0-3 showing in Florida frustrating and embarrassing, but added that we didn't get down.
That was especially true for Battle, the 6-foot rookie guard. He came into this one shooting 21.2 percent from the floor. But with the Lions clinging to a 60-59 lead and less than a minute left, he made the most of a broken play, blowing by Hank Thorns and then lobbing in a running one-hander over 6-6 forward A.D. Vassallo that made it 62-59 with 38.7 showing.
I just spun, tried to get in the lane and shot the ball with confidence, he said.
Battle's clutch shot.
Tech came up empty on all but one of its remaining possessions and the Lions made just enough of their free throws (4 of 6) to notch the victory. Oh, there were some scary moments — Walker missed a pair of free throws with State leading 64-61 and 16.6 seconds showing.
But Thorns missed a forced drive at the other end. PSU rookie forward D.J. Jackson rebounded and was fouled, and drew all net on two freebies to end it. Nine different Lions played 15 minutes or more.
I'm really, really proud of our team, DeChellis said. And it really was a team effort.
Penn State played with zip from the opening tip, and showed no signs of a post-Orlando hangover.
Though the Hokies did serious damage on the offensive glass early, Penn State never let them get away. The Lions appeared to be in trouble when, trailing 16-15, Claxton was called for his second offensive foul midway through the half.
But rather than coming unglued, State rallied when its best player went to the bench. The Lions became more active on defense and it helped their transition game, as a Cornley steal led to a Brandon Hassell bucket and a Walker steal led to a triple by Walker a few seconds later.
PSU led 20-16 and found itself in a flow nearly until halftime, leading by as many as 13 (35-22) before taking a 38-28 advantage into the locker room. Walker had nine points off the bench and as a team the Lions made an uncharacteristic 53.3 percent of their attempts from the floor and 42.9 percent from the arc.
Greenberg was disgusted with his defense. Asked why Walker was so effective, he cracked, First off, you have to guard him. Getting close helps.
Tech scrapped back in the second half, as Claxton and Cornley never did find their groove. But Walker hit several buckets in the lane to keep PSU on top and then Battle nailed the money shot near the end.
Walker in the lane.
It shows how deep we are and how much more talented we are [than a year ago], Walker said. I think that's exciting for us.
PSU had an outstanding student turnout for the game, one if its best in five years under DeChellis. He thanked them for it in his post-game press conference. So did his players. Amazing, Battle said. Just beautiful, rookie forward Jeff Brooks added. Later, Brooks said he usually only played before about 10 students in high school, and that it was good to play in front of a hundred in this game. Walker and Battle, who quickly pointed out that the student crowd Wednesday numbered in the thousands, chided him. Later, DeChellis smiled at Brooks and said, You have no future as a ticket manager.
Freshman center Andrew Jones started his first game, replacing senior Brandon Hassell. It seemed to work well for both players. Jones was a solid defensive presence and Hassell scored six points in 17 minutes.
Walker said he was disappointed that he did not play in the second half vs. UCF. But he said he did not make a big deal out of it for the good of the team. It's just about having a good attitude, he explained. I've tried to do that for four years.
This was the final game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this year. The ACC dominated again, winning seven of the 10 games.
Next up for the Lions is a Saturday trip to Philadelphia to face St. Joe's at the Palestra.