A disputed call -- or to be more accurate, a disputed non-call -- went against PSU with about 15 seconds left, allowing the Spartans to repel a furious Nittany Lion rally and escape with a 78-73 victory.
The loss broke a string of seven straight home wins against Big Ten teams and three straight wins against ranked teams for PSU, which fell to 13-5 on the season and 2-3 in the league. MSU improved to 14-2 and 4-0 with its 10th straight victory.
Penn State players took no solace in a close loss to a team that whipped defending national champ Kansas Saturday. Said forward Jamelle Cornley, who led all scorers with a career-high 26, You have to win. It doesn't matter if it's close.
The play that hurt the Lions the most happened after they had clawed back from a 17-point second-half deficit. They trailed 73-72 when Spartan guard Kalin Lucas went to the line following a blocking foul for a second straight possession. He made one of two with 26.6 showing to make it 74-72.
Me and my coaches and I'm sure my teammates thought he fouled me, Battle said. He stuck his leg out and he was late.
But the officials, who had called 29 fouls in the second half to that point, felt Battle ran into Suton's leg. Battle lost his balance and the ball and MSU guard Durrell Summers came away with the steal. Battle fouled him immediately and Summers made both free throws for a 76-72 lead with 15 seconds left that put things out of reach.
The refs can't call everything and we can't rely on that, Battle said. So at the end of the day it was a bad play by me and it cost my team.
While the one play was critical, the Nittany Lions didn't exactly do much to help themselves through the first 30 minutes. They fell behind 8-0 early before rallying to go up 22-16. But when the shots stopped falling on offense, PSU also stopped playing defense. Michigan State closed the first half with a flurry, leading 42-29 at the break after shooting 57 percent from the floor.
They were scoring and we were not guarding the way we need to guard, Lion coach Ed DeChellis said.
They kept scoring and we stopped scoring, Battle added. (Then) we stopped defending. Coach was livid at halftime.
PSU continued to try to play man defense through the first 10 minutes of the second half but the Spartans were just too athletic. DeChellis finally found an answer when he began rotating 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones. It fueled the comeback.
The zone gave us some problems, MSU coach Tom Izzo said. It was a great move by Ed.
The Spartans began forcing long shots. And that led to long rebounds. And that allowed the undersized Lions, who were out-rebounded 41-24 in the game, to level the playing field.
Penn State cut it to seven (69-62) on a Stanley Pringle 3-pointer with 4:44 showing and the BJC crowd of 10,270 came alive. Later, Battle went coast to coast, scoring his first bucket since early in the first half, to make it 69-65. Then Cornley powered inside to make it 69-67 and the house was rocking.
At point, the Spartans, who did not score a field goal in the game's final 5:22, began a steady procession to the free-throw line. But the Lions still had a chance to tie it or take the lead when Battle made what turned out to be an ill-fated drive.
I think he's the best point guard in the league, DeChellis said. And I'm going to put the ball in his hands and try to drive and see if he can get something done. It didn't happen.
Battle finished with 20 points and five assists. He and Cornley were the only Lions in doubles. In fact, they outscored the rest of the team 46-27.
Michigan State had four players in doubles, led by forward Raymar Morgan's 17.
There were an incredible 32 fouls called in the second half -- 16 on each team.
Penn State freshman guard Chris Babb continued to see more quality minutes. He was 2 of 4 from the field -- all 3-pointers -- for six points in 14 minutes.
Villanova transfer center Andrew Ott made the most of his minutes. He had four points and three rebounds in 10 minutes. His two offensive rebounds tied for team-high honors.
Lion forward David Jackson continued to struggle. He was quickly pulled after traveling on a gimme layup attempt in the first half. He played six minutes in the game and did not score a point or grab a rebound.
Penn State is at Indiana Saturday for a 6 p.m. tip.