The Nittany Lions improved to 7-1 on the season with an 85-83 victory over previously unbeaten Georgia Tech (4-1) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Atlanta Wednesday. And they did it despite:
• Going 2 of 7 from the free throw line down the stretch, which included missing the front end of three one and ones.
• Leading scorer Talor Battle going 5 of 16 from the field and 2 of 8 from the arc.
• Yellow Jacket sophomore big man Gani Lawal owning the paint, going 15 of 20 from the floor for a game-high 34 points and 11 rebounds.
It doesn't matter how you get it done, said PSU senior guard Danny Morrissey, one of four Lions in double figures with 13 points. If you get it done, you get the win, and that's all that really counts.
Penn State got it done by playing its game all night, which made for a classic clash of styles. The Lions rely on Battle and fellow guard Stanley Pringle to set a tone, where practically everything Tech does is predicated on a power inside game.
Both teams played to their strengths in this one. State built an early 10-point lead (18-8) thanks to great outside shooting. The Yellow Jackets climbed right back by scoring at will inside.
But every time one team seemed to be on the verge of seizing complete control, the other responded. And in that respect, the early lead was big for the Lions, as they inched away every time Tech clawed its way back.
Penn State led 44-39 at the break and, after trailing 52-50 and 54-52 early in the second half, grabbed the lead for good with a Pringle 3-pointer off a Battle assist with 12:08 remaining in the game.
The Lions never trailed again, thanks to a shot of energy provided when Morrissey came off the bench following a media timeout with 7:43 left. Less than a minute later, with State leading 68-64, he hit a 3-pointer to give the Lions some breathing room.
He hit another key jumper following the media timeout at the 2:50 mark, this one giving PSU an 81-74 lead.
Penn State was up 83-78 with just over a minute left when the Yellow Jackets began fouling to try to get back in it. The ploy worked. David Jackson missed the front end of two one and ones and Battle missed the front end of another, and a Lawal follow dunk cut the lead to 83-81 with 16 seconds left.
Pringle was quickly fouled and made both shots to boost the lead to 85-81. Lawal countered with another dunk with nine seconds left to make it 85-83. On the ensuing inbound pass, Lion forward Jamelle Cornley was fouled with six seconds left.
Cornley is a notoriously poor free-throw shooter, having made less than 57 percent from the stripe heading into this game. And true to form, he missed both ends of the double-bonus chance. But the second errant shot bounced out long, toward the corner. And with no timeouts, Tech guard Iman Shumpert had no choice but to track it down and fly up court as fast as he could.
His 40-footer at the buzzer was no good. And the Lions escaped with their best win of the season.
We didn't make our free throws down the stretch, or we're walking out of here with an eight- or 10-point win over a good team on their floor, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said.
That was actually a compliment for his outfit, which did do a lot of things right in the game. Penn State had only six turnovers while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 42 percent from the arc.
Pringle led the way with 22 points. Despite struggling from the floor, Battle finished with 18 points and seven assists. Center Andrew Jones was 4 of 5 from the field and had eight rebounds.
I'm really proud of our guys, DeChellis said. Everyone is really playing their role right now.
Penn State now plays five straight non-conference home games — starting with Temple at the Jordan Center Saturday at 6 p.m. — before opening Big Ten play with a home date against Northwestern at the BJC Dec. 31.