And now they know what an excruciating road win over MSU is all about.
Penn State stunned Michigan State 72-68 Sunday, but only after horrid free-throw shooting nearly led to the Nittany Lions blowing a 68-56 lead.
I think if we could have made a couple of free throws, we could have gotten out of here a little earlier, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said on his postgame radio show. But that's just the way it is.
The Lions improved to 17-5 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten with a victory that significantly bolstered their NCAA Tournament resume. They also equaled their longest league winning streak ever at four games.
MSU, which edged Penn State in the Jordan Center Jan. 21, dipped to 17-4 and 7-2.
Guard Talor Battle led the Nittany Lions with a career-high 29 points, and was unstoppable midway through the second half when he helped PSU methodically pull away from the Spartans. His driving layup with 6:48 remaining gave the Lions the 68-56 lead.
But PSU entered the game as the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference (63.9 percent), so Michigan State coach Tom Izzo ordered his troops to start fouling to get the Lions into the bonus.
The strategy worked to perfection. Guard Danny Morrissey, forward Jamelle Cornley and Battle all missed the front end of one and ones. PSU also had a pair of turnovers and Cornley missed a layup as the Spartans slowly crept back into it.
Battle went to the line again with PSU leading 69-67 with 28 seconds left, this time shooting the double bonus. He missed both ends, and Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas was fouled by Lion center Andrew Jones at the other end.
Lucas made one of two to cut it to 69-68 with 12 seconds left. Jones was fouled after rebounding the miss, and made one of two for a 70-68 lead. Lucas missed a long jumper with five seconds left, and Jones rebounded and was fouled. He made both with just over a second remaining to secure the win.
Andrew stepped up and sealed the win, Battle said.
But Battle was the obvious star of the day. He was 11 of 19 from the field and 6 of 12 from the arc in posting his career-best point total. He also had five rebounds and three assists, and made another strong argument that he belongs at the top of the list of candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
Penn State opened the game with a 7-2 lead before the Spartans finally woke up. They began hammering the Lions on the offensive glass, quickly eliminating the early deficit and then going on a 9-0 run to lead 24-13 when Delvon Roe made a layup.
The lead reached 13 when Durrell Summers scored inside with 6:11 left before the break, and PSU seemed in trouble. But under a hail of triples, the Lions came back, and Battle's 27-footer just before the break gave them a 38-37 lead.
We got down early, Battle said. But I led my team back. I told them we're not going to lose this game.
Talor made some big shots for us in the first half, DeChellis said.
The halftime stat sheet showed how differently the two teams went about their business. The Spartans had eight offensive rebounds that led to 14 second-chance points and 18 points in the paint. The Lions, meanwhile, were 7 of 13 from the arc.
Battle finished the half with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
After the game, however, he was less concerned about the statement he made than the one the entire team did. Though the Lions have been good away from home this year, with solid wins over Penn and Georgia Tech, this is the first high-profile road victory of the season. It is the kind of win that could factor heavily when the NCAA field is selected.
We really want to show the (selection) committee we deserve to be in the tournament at the end of the year, Battle said.
Hopefully, this will help us somewhere along the way in March, DeChellis added.
Cornley added 16 points for the Lions and guard Stanley Pringle had 10 despite playing limited minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Jones played one of his best games at Penn State, with 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Lions made 10 of 20 3-pointers in the game but just 8 of 17 free throws.
Lucas led Michigan State with 23 points but it took him 21 shots to get there. The Spartans had 17 offensive rebounds that led to 23 second-chance points.