State Out-Battles Pirates

Freshman guard breaks out of shooting slump in grand style as the Nittany Lions beat Seton Hall at the Jordan Center.

Penn State guard Talor Battle picked the perfect time to break out of his season-long shooting slump. The true freshman entered Saturday night's home game against Seton Hall shooting 24.2 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from the arc.

But he made a clutch bucket to complete a huge Nittany Lion rally and force the game in overtime. After never leading in regulation, PSU never trailed in OT, jumping to an early lead thanks to Battle and holding on for a critical 89-86 win to improve to 4-4 on the year.

The Pirates fell to 7-2.

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“I was open, the guys got it to me, I shot with confidence and I knocked them down,” Battle said.

“He's a great kid and he wants to do well,” Lion coach Ed DeChellis added. “He took some big shots and made some big plays. Hopefully he got his confidence back.”

In the final few minutes of regulation and early in overtime, Battle was the most confident man in the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State played horrible defense in the first half, allowing the Hall to make 62 percent of its shots while taking a 52-42 lead into the locker room. The Pirates led by as many as 15 in the opening 20 minutes.

When State continued to stink it up defensively to start the second half, DeChellis changed to a 2-3 zone.

“I had had enough,” DeChellis said. “We thought we'd play some zone to see if we could keep them off balance.”

It worked. With 6-foot-5 Jamelle Cornley flanked by 6-5 Geary Claxton and 6-6 D.J. Jackson in the paint, the Lions used their quickness to stop the Pirates from slashing to the bucket. PSU also began to control the glass.

Cornley, Claxton and guard Mike Walker did most of the offensive damage for Penn State during the comeback, with the latter nailing a 3-pointer to tie it at 70-70 just before the final media timeout. The Pirates responded with five straight points — a triple by Jeremy Hazell and an alley-oop jam by Brian Laing — to go up 75-70.

Cornley scored inside to make it 75-72, then, following a Claxton steal, Battle hit a transition triple from the right corner to tie at 1:09. Eugene Harvey missed a crazy long 3-point attempt with 35 seconds to go, giving PSU the last shot in regulation.

Cornley got the ball on the right block but his shot was blocked by Larry Davis and he fell hard, slamming his head on the floor. Time expired and Cornley, already playing on a sore left knee, had to be checked out by the team doctor. He returned late in overtime.


Cornley's attempt at the game-winner.

Battle opened the extra session with another triple from the right corner. Then, following a pair of Hazell free throws, he drilled one from the left corner, giving State an 81-77 lead.

“He made three huge shots that changed the completion of the game,” Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “We did not expect Talor Battle to hit three 3-pointers.”

When Battle can score from the arc, he is especially dangerous because as defenders start to close out, he can attack the bucket. And so it was on State's next possession, when he pump-faked and drove to the hole, scoring and drawing a foul from John Garcia.

PSU was up 83-77, but Battle missed the free throw. The game should have been over, but because the Lions could not make their freebies — they went 4 of 10 from the stripe in OT — it wasn't.

Jackson hit one of two to make it 89-85 with three seconds to play. Then, inexplicably, Claxton fouled Harvey. Harvey made the first and missed the second on purpose, and the ball was knocked out of bounds off the Lions. Down 89-86 with .06 showing, the Pirates inbounded to Hazell whose deep 3-point try bounced off the front of the rim.

“We just need to make free throws,” DeChellis said.

In the end though, the entire PSU camp was thrilled with a win that — in the first half — looked like it might well be the team's first home loss of the season. And they had their freshman guard, now battled-tested, to thank for it.

“He's a player,” DeChellis said. “I've seen him do it in practice. He's a kid who at crunch time doesn't care, he'll do what he can do to get the win.”

GAME NOTES

• Questionable until game time with a left knee bruise, Cornley started for the first time this season and logged 33 minutes (17 points, five rebounds).

• Claxton had 21 points and 11 boards.

• After lighting it up in the first half, Seton Hall shot 36 percent in the second and 16.7 percent in OT.

• Next up for the Lions is a Wednesday home game with Princeton (7 p.m. tip).

• See the official box score here.

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