Lions Tame the Tigers

Claxton comes on strong in Penn State's easy win over Princeton at the Jordan Center Wednesday night. Check out our game story and Prince Spells' extensive photo gallery.

When executed properly, the Princeton offense is a sight to behold. Crisp passes chewing up clock, eventually leading to backdoor buckets. And when an opponent adjusts to that, dropping down, it leaves the arc clear for open 3-pointers.

When executed poorly, the Princeton offense is … well … offensive. And that was the case against Penn State at the Jordan Center Wednesday night, as the Nittany Lions held the Tigers to 11 first-half points in what would become a 61-38 PSU win.

The Lions improved to 5-4 while Princeton fell to 2-7.


“We thought we got some good shots,” first-year Tigers' coach Sydney Johnson said. “The ball just didn't drop.

Boy didn't it drop. The game was tied 9-9 with 10:35 to go in the first half before Princeton went on the mother of all dry spells. It stumbled around for nearly 10 full minutes without scoring, missing nine straight shots, six straight 3-pointers and a pair of free throws, and turned over the ball seven times.

In the meantime, Penn State forwards Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley began mauling the Tigers in the paint. By the time Nick Lake broke the drought on a layup with :36 showing before the break, State led 23-11. Mike Walker's buzzer-beating triple made it 26-11 at the half.

Against Princeton's methodical offense, it might as well have been 123-11. DeChellis said he was disappointed that his team did not step out on the 3-point shooter following several screens, but overall was OK with the way the Lions played in their initial exposure to a Princeton-style offense.

“For the first time we played against it, I was pretty surprised,” he said.

The Tigers' 11 points were the fewest in a first half against PSU since Division II Juniata scored 11 in 1989. And things got no better in the second half.

Penn State opened the final half with a 7-2 run to go up 33-13 and the game quickly got out of hand. Claxton was unstoppable, scoring at will and dishing out five second-half assists as the lead grew to 59-31 before DeChellis began to clear his bench.

Claxton finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Afterward, Johnson was asked if he considered fouling Claxton repeatedly just to slow him down.

The coach laughed and said, “There was no hack-a-Claxton philosophy going on.”

As a team, Penn State made 15 of 17 2-point baskets in the second half.

But it was not all positives for PSU. The Lions shot 1 of 9 from the arc in the second half and continued to struggle at the line, making only 4 of 12 free throws.

“Hopefully that turns around for us because it needs to,” DeChellis said of the foul shooting. “We don't want it to come back and cost us a game.”

That will definitely come into play when the Big Ten season rolls around in early January. But in their next matchup, the Lions could have some wiggle room with their free-throw shooting.

Denver visits the Jordan Center Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip. The Pioneers are coached by Joe Scott, who a year ago at this time was coaching Princeton. And Denver runs … you guessed it … a Princeton-style offense.

Whether the 3-4 Pioneers do it better than the Tigers remains to be seen.


• DeChellis said he scheduled Princeton and Denver back-to-back to help prepare the younger players on the team for the Jan. 2 Big Ten opener at Northwestern. The Wildcats are coached by another former Tiger coach -- Bill Carmody.

• Penn State's guards combined to shoot 5 of 19 from the field (2 of 14 from the arc). The forwards and centers made 22 of 38 shots.

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