State Buried in Tourney Opener

Nittany Lions' ugly season comes to an end with first-round blowout at the hands of Minnesota. A hobbled Battle never could get his game going.

Penn State entered Thursday's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis as the lower seed no one supposedly wanted to face.

That apparently didn't apply to Minnesota.

The No. 6 seed Golden Gophers raced out to an early lead and maintained firm control throughout on the way to a 76-55 victory over the No. 11 seed Nittany Lions. The loss capped the season for Penn State, which followed up its 2009 NIT title with a disappointing 11-20 mark (3-15 conference) this year.

"We played as poorly as we've played all year," PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. "We've never played this poorly. This is the worst beating we've had all year, and that's why we feel bad and the players feel bad. We're dejected."

The Lions were in trouble before the game even tipped, and not only because they were facing an opponent that swept the regular-season home-and-home and had won 10 of the previous 11 in the series.

At a Wednesday practice, PSU leading scorer Talor Battle twisted his right ankle, and he was wearing a heavy brace and limping noticeably when Thursday's action tipped at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"Going to the basket and finishing, I just didn't have a lot of confidence in my ankle or my lift," Battle said. "There were some shots where I didn't have the strength or lift."

With Battle hobbling around -- he even took himself out of the game for a couple of minutes midway through the first half -- the Lions could not find their rhythm on either end of the floor. He was 1 of 6 from the field in the first half as State trailed by as many as 15 (26-11) before Chris Babb made a couple of late buckets to trim it to 29-20 at the break.

Penn State had nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes, leading to 15 Minnesota points.

"The early turnovers were hurting us because they were getting easy transition buckets and it really set the tone for the rest of the game," forward David Jackson said.

Battle was more to the point: "The reason we had those turnovers is because we came out with no toughness. They took like four or five ball right from our hands, and that's unacceptable."

The Lions got no scoring from their bench in the first half, either.

Battle bagged the brace for the second half but it didn't matter. He still had trouble moving. And he and his teammates continued to play poor defense. The Gophers opened the final stanza with an 11-5 run.

Lion Jeff Brooks stopped the bleeding with a conventional 3-point play, but then Minnesota scored 10 of the game's next 14 points to blow it wide open.

Lawrence Westbrook made a triple followed by a Colton Iverson layup with 12:39 remaining to make it 51-29. Minnesota ended up making 58 percent of its shots (29 of 50) in the game.

Battle, Babb, Jackson and Andrew Jones all finished with 10 points for Penn State.

The Gophers (18-12, 3-15) take on No. 3 seed Michigan State in the quarterfinals Friday, where a win could nudge them toward the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The Lions, meanwhile, face the prospect of trying to pick up the pieces from a forgettable season with -- as things stand -- practically no wiggle room to improve the roster. There are no seniors eligibility-wise on this team. But DeChellis has said that decisions will have to be made on several players who are on schedule to graduate this spring.


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