Battle Mr. Big Shot Again

Nittany Lion sophomore guard keeps Penn State alive in the NIT by sparking an overtime win over George Mason.

Penn State guard Talor Battle made a quick morph from goat to hero Tuesday night. It took him exactly 5.1 seconds to pull off the transformation.

Battle's turnover with 5.1 remaining in regulation of an opening-round NIT game with George Mason at the Jordan Center appeared to doom the Nittany Lions. But he responded with a clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, where PSU came through with a 77-73 win.

“I think he has that ability to let it go, not dwell on things, let it roll of his back,” Lion coach Ed DeChellis said of his star sophomore. “That's a great trait to have as a player.”

And a great player to have as a coach.

With the win, State improved to 23-11 on the season and will now play host to Rhode Island in a second-round game Thursday. The Patriots capped their campaign at 22-11, but not before putting a serious scare in the Lions and 5,548 rambunctious fans on hand for the St. Patrick's Day clash.

Mason led 63-62 when burly forward Darryl Monroe scored inside with a minute to go. Battle missed a jumper with 23 seconds left that could have given PSU a lead, and Monroe rebounded. But following a timeout, Monroe ran the baseline on the inbound pass. He was called for traveling and PSU took possession.

Battle got the ball early in the possession and never gave it up. As the clock wound under 10 seconds, he galloped into the lane and slipped. Mason's John Vaughn came up with the steal and was fouled with 4.8 seconds left.

He made both ends of a one and one to give the Patriots a 65-62 lead. PSU seemed finished. Battle had not scored in the second half. Senior forward and captain Jamelle Cornley had long since been knocked out of the game with a reoccurrence of a left shoulder injury. State was out of timeouts.

“I didn't want to play my last game of the season,” Battle said. “I'm sure a lot of other guys didn't want to, either.”

The Lions inbounded and Battle headed straight up the right sideline. If Mason had fouled, Penn State figured to be in an even worse predicament -- trailing by three and only getting a one-and-one chance from the line.

“We've never done it,” Patriots' coach Jim Larranaga said when asked if he considered such a strategy. What unfolded next might give him pause to change that approach.

When the clock clicked below two seconds, Battle pulled up from behind the arc. As he rose, Mason guard Dre Smith retreated. The ball looked good from the time it left Battle's hand, and swished through the net as the buzzer sounded to knot it at 65-65.

“Talor Battle stepped up and made a huge shot,” Larranaga said.

The Lions, who saw him make a last-second winning deuce against Illinois at the BJC Feb. 5, were not surprised.

“I always say 'showtime' (to Battle) when it's coming down to crunch time,” said forward Jeff Brooks, who helped make up for Cornley's loss with a career-high 13 points and five rebounds. “He can snap into big-shot mode and make some crazy plays.”

Battle remained snapped in early during OT, drilling two straight triples for a 71-66 lead and later making a layup for a 73-68 lead. The Lions were not seriously threatened the rest of the way.

Afterward, Battle half-joked that he calls himself “Mr. Big Shot.” Even though DeChellis admitted that “I call him a lot of things, and sometime 'Mr. Big Shot' is not one of them,” he said once Battle got hot, nearly every possession was funneled through him.

“That's not a problem with this team,” he said. “They don't care who scores. They've been very unselfish all year.”

But when they need a hero, they always seem to look to the same guy.

SHORT SHOTS

• DeChellis said he did not know if Cornley would be able to play against Rhode Island. Cornley was on the bench at the end of the game with his arm in a sling.

• Penn State's bench played its best game of the year, coming through with 30 points. Guard Chris Babb had a career-high 11 points and four rebounds.

• Thursday's game tips at 7 p.m. No TV had been announced as of Tuesday night.

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