NJIT, for the uninitiated, stands for New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is in the third year of reclassifying from Division II to Division I and has now lost a record (kind of) 35 straight games.
But the scrappy Highlanders didn't roll over. Thanks to an 8-of-9 showing from the line and 11 turnovers by the Nittany Lions, NJIT was within eight (37-29) at the break.
We were kind of walking around in mud in the first half, said PSU coach Ed DeChellis, whose team improved to 2-0. We never could get any rhythm the way the game was.
The game was over-officiated throughout, preventing either team from ever hitting its stride for more than a few minutes at a time. In all, 46 fouls were called and 43 free throws attempted.
But that was actually good news for the Highlanders (0-2). Because when Penn State picked up the defensive pace in the second half, that was the only way NJIT could score. But when the free throws stopped coming, it was in trouble.
Highlander guard Brandon Lyn hit a dipsey-do layup with 14:48 left in the game to cut the Lion lead to 47-34. But NJIT did not score again for nearly seven minutes, during which time State posted 17 straight points, many of them off turnovers.
The Highlanders had 24 miscues in the game, leading to 41 points by the Lions.
In only his second game as a head coach, NJIT's Jim Engles apologized before meeting the media after the game, explaining that it was his first-ever press conference. But when asked about the long scoring drought, he responded like a savvy veteran, noting that the Highlanders went 13 minutes without scoring in their opening loss to Manhattan.
We're like the economy now — when we're down, we're down, he joked. It's a huge depression. We're looking for some of that stimulus package.
DeChellis, meanwhile, admitted that he was never really concerned that his team would lose the game. He substituted liberally throughout, even getting walk-on forward Steve Fitzpatrick a couple of minutes in the first half.
Battle was the only Lion who logged over 30 minutes, and made the most of it with a game-high 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. Meanwhile, senior forward Jamelle Cornley spent most of the second half on the bench, his legs covered with a towel as he cheered on his teammates.
Every healthy player on the roster played at least four minutes. Despite registering only 19 minutes, starting forward David Jackson added 13 points for the Lions.
In the middle of a stretch where his team is playing five games in 10 days, DeChellis had no qualms about taking it easy on his veterans.
We've got a tough schedule here, so we're gonna rest guys when we can, he said.
Game MVP: Battle could have scored 30 if he wanted to. NJIT had nobody in his league.
Unsung Hero: Morrissey was 4 of 8 from distance and added four assists and a pair of steals. His 3-point misses were all wide-open looks, though.
Key Moment: Guard Stanley Pringle made a triple early in the second half to give the Lions a 42-31 lead. Shortly after, Pringle dished to Battle for another 3-pointer to blow it open.
Good Sign: Battle has made seven 3-pointers (on 13 attempts) in two game this season. It took Battle eight games (and 43 shots) to make his first seven 3-pointers last season.
Bad Sign: Penn State did not block a shot Monday and has a total of two blocks through two games.
Rookie Report: Cammeron Woodyard led all PSU freshman with 16 minutes played. The swingman did well, chipping in with six points (on 2-of-3 shooting from the arc), two rebounds and an assist. He is looking like a real find for DeChellis and the staff.
This game was lined up for Penn State by the organizers of the Philly Hoops Classic. The Lions play two games at the BJC this week (see below) and then two in Philadelphia later this month.
Since NJIT is considered a reclassifying program, its 35 straight losses (over three seasons) will not count as a major college record. So Sacramento State, which dropped 34 straight in the late 1990s, is still on the hook.
Sophomore forward Jeff Brooks played Monday after missing Friday's season-opening win over William & Mary with a concussion. He had a whacky line — three points, three assists, six rebounds, five turnovers and five fouls — in 16 minutes.
Next up for the Lions is a home game with Hartford Thursday. The action tips at 7 p.m. It is also part of the Philly Hoops Classic.