Lions Stay on the Defensive

Penn State hoops team holds second straight opponent to less than 40 points.

Penn State coach Ed DeChellis scheduled Princeton and Denver back-to-back this week to help prepare his squad for its Jan. 2 Big Ten opener at Northwestern. All three opponents run patient Princeton-style offenses.

It is anyone's guess how the Nittany Lions will do against the rest of the Big Ten. But they sure seem ready for the Wildcats.

Penn State smothered Denver at the Jordan Center Saturday afternoon, holding the Pioneers to 10 first-half points in a 60-39 win. This after limiting Princeton to 11 first-half points in a 61-38 victory Wednesday.

And the Lions (6-4) did it with leading scorer Geary Claxton being limited to 19 minutes due to foul trouble. Senior guard Mike Walker picked up the slack with 14 points.

But the last two games were more about preparing the younger Lions to stop the Princeton-style offense they'll see in Evanston.

“It was good to give them a look at it and let them see how the flow of the game goes,” Walker said.

Lack of flow may have been a better description. DeChellis likened Saturday's game to “getting a root canal — there was nothing in flow and there wasn't any rhythm.” Yet the Lions were never seriously threatened.

Denver has not won a road game since March of 2006, and to have any chance in this one the Pioneers had to make outside shots. But Penn State was simply too patient defensively to be hurt by the backdoor cuts that are the staple of the Princeton offense.

“That's all we did in practice (the past week)," Walker said of stopping backdoor cuts.

Unfortunately for the Pioneers, even when they had open outside looks, they couldn't convert. They trailed 9-6 early in the game but then went nearly nine minutes without scoring. At the time they broke the dry spell with an Adam Tanner free throw with three minutes left before the half, they were 3 of 13 from the floor and 0 of 7 from the arc.

Penn State was not exactly lighting it up offensively, but still led 26-10 at the break. It was the lowest first-half scoring total by a Lion opponent in at least 20 years.

With a seven-man rotation, jet lag from making the long trip East and an offense that doesn't lend itself to comebacks, Denver was finished.

Even with Claxton and starting center Andrew Jones picking up their fourth fouls early in the second half, Penn State — which is now using a 10-man rotation — methodically pulled away. The lead reached 28, 55-27, before Denver made some things happen during garbage time.

But that was really the only time Penn State lost focus. And in that regard, DeChellis liked what he saw, particularly from first-year players like Talor Battle, Stanley Pringle, D.J. Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Jones.

“I think our younger guys did pretty well, and that's important,” he said. “I thought it was solid.”

Even more solid would be a win in the league opener roughly two weeks from now. Denver coach Joe Scott wrapped up his post-game press conference with a clever reference to that game.

“You guys get to watch it again on Jan. 2,” he said with a smile.

GAME NOTES

• Brooks took a hard fall with seven minutes to go and did not return. DeChellis said the rookie forward injured a shoulder but was not certain of the extent.

• Denver had 19 fouls and only 12 field goals in the game. The Pioneers also had more turnovers (14) than field goals.

• This marked the first time Penn State held back-to-back opponents to less than 40 points since the 1947-48 season. American scored 25 and Colgate scored 35 on Jan. 7 and Jan. 9 of 1948, respectively. Speaking of which...

• Penn State takes a week off for finals before playing host to Colgate next Sunday (2 p.m. tip).

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