To say the odds were stacked against Ed DeChellis' team would be an understatement.
But in its most inspired performance of the season, Penn State overcame an eight-point second-half deficit to send the game to overtime and then gutted out a 68-64 victory.
You have to find a way to win, DeChellis said. And somehow we found a way.
We knew we had to step it up as freshmen, added rookie guard Talor Battle. Four of us in the starting lineup you don't see that much.
Here is something else PSU fans have not seen much of: the Nittany Lions have now won five straight Big Ten home games, and will carry a 15-15 mark and the seventh seed into this week's conference tournament in Indianapolis. Their seven league wins (against 11 losses) are the most under DeChellis.
They did it while playing most of the conference season without All-Big Ten forward Geary Claxton, who blew out a knee in January. Junior forward Jamelle Cornley was also out of action Sunday with a wobbly left knee that will require surgery to repair. His season is over.
Fortunately for DeChellis, he had been leaning heavily on his freshmen all season, so stepping up against the Hoosiers (25-6, 14-4) was nothing new. The Lions started the game strong, basically going punch-for-punch with IU through the first 24 minutes.
With or without Jamelle Cornley, we've got to be ready to play, Battle said. And right from the get-go we did that.
Brandon Hassell on an alley-oop jam.
Early in the second half, though, Indiana super freshman Eric Gordon caught fire. With Miami Heat coach Pat Riley scouting from the stands, Gordon went off for 12 points -- including three 3-pointers -- in a 14-0 run that gave the Hoosiers a 44-36 lead. But Battle and freshman forward Jeff Brooks sparked a 10-2 counterattack by the Lions, and the game was tied 46-46 with 8:54 remaining.
When they made their run, there was still a lot of time left, Battle said. We kept fighting back and put ourselves in a position to win the game.
It was tight for the rest of regulation before another PSU rookie -- forward D.J. Jackson -- scored inside and was fouled with 22.9 seconds left. He made the free throw to tie the game at 58-58, and Gordon missed a runner before the buzzer.
Gordon misses at the end of regulation.
Junior guard Danny Morrissey opened the extra session with a triple and PSU controlled the tempo and the score throughout OT. IU center D.J. White scored inside to tie it at 61-61 with 3:01 to go, but -- after the teams swapped empty possessions -- Battle missed a short jumper and Jackson was there for the tip-in. It was one of 15 offensive boards by the Lions on the afternoon.
Flustered by State's man defense (the Lions played all zone until the final few minutes of regulation), Gordon and the Hoosiers had trouble finding open looks the rest of the way. They did not get another basket until Jordan Crawford made a 3-pointer to close it to 66-64 with 16.7 seconds remaining.
PSU's Stanley Pringle made one of two free thows to boost the lead to 67-64. With time winding down, IU's Armon Bassett missed a 3-pointer. After a scramble, Pringle saved the ball from under the Hoosier basket and threw it straight to Gordon near the top of the key. His open look was short and Battle rebounded (and made one of two free throws) to ice it.
They were without Cornley and without Claxton, and they controlled the tempo and were tough when they needed to be tough, IU interim coach Dan Dakitch said.
Boy did they need to be. A loss in the regular-season finale would have sent Penn State to Indy having to win three games to reach the .500 record that could get them in the NIT or new CBI. Now, if they can beat Illinois Thursday, they are assured of finishing at least .500 heading into postseason action.
And that scenario only added to the pressure of the day. But in the end, the young Lions were up to the challenge.
I think everyone was telling them we couldn't beat Indiana, DeChellis said of his players. I told them I thought we could.
All eight Lions who played scored. Jackson led the way with his first career double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds).
Battle and Pringle combined to shoot 4 of 27 from the field. That was offset by Gordon and Bassett, who combined to shoot 11 of 37. Gordon finished with 26 points and White had 20.
Cornley will have surgery Monday on his left knee and his expected to be out of action for at least three months. DeChellis said the pain just became too much for the junior. When you have a bad wheel, you can only run on a flat tire for so long before you have to get it fixed.
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PSU coach Ed DeChellis.
Battle, Brooks and Jackson.
IU coach Dan Dakich.