When Geary Claxton went down with the ACL tear against Wisconsin, everyone said the torch was passed and this was now Jamelle Cornley's team. Maybe it was for a while. But not anymore. This team is Talor Battle's team now.
Every team has a few good players. Some have more than others. But for every 100 good players there is one special player, and not many teams have those. Special players can take over a game. They will the ball into the basket when a big score is needed. They seem oblivious to pain and injuries. They come up with a big rebound or an important steal when the game is on the line. And they make their teammates better. Last night I became convinced that Talor Battle is one of those players. The sensational freshman took over the game scoring 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting (7-of-9 from the arc) with 13 rebounds and 6 assists, all career highs. It was his first career double-double.
You don't need to know anything more about his importance to this team than what happened in the second half. At the 12:50 mark he drove the lane and got nailed by a Michigan big man. He landed awkwardly on his tailbone and laid on the court for a minute as the entire Jordan Center held their breath. When he limped off to the training room it looked like our season was over for the second time this year. Penn State went from holding a slim five point lead to the short end of a 49-47 score. But then in the third minute Battle rose again emerging from the locker room telling Ed he was good to go.
On Michigan's first possession he grabbed a defensive rebound and made a three pointer on our end. Two possessions later he sank another three. Then he pulled down another rebound and assisted Mike Walker on his three. He repeated it two possessions later. Rebound, pass to Walker, three. Then he sank another three of his own. After he returned with 8:30 to go Penn State went on a 15-0 run to put the game out of reach. And the angels sang Halleluiah.
As I said, Mike Walker was an integral part of that 15-0 run and the win in general. It seemed only right on senior day that he would get the start have a great game scoring 15 points. Senior Brandon Hassell also got the start. He only scored two points in 24 minutes, but it was a huge two points. Michigan was trying to make a late comeback pulling within seven points with 1:30 to go. Hassell reached in on Manny Harris on a pick and roll and poked the ball loose at the top of the key. He streaked out to midcourt and took the ball in uncontested for a dunk.
The entire team seemed to have a renewed effort in rebounding last night. I've been pretty frustrated in that regard lately. Not that they're not rebounding well. Just that there hasn't been any effort in times. There have been too many possessions where Cornley throws up a 15 foot jumper and the rest of the team cuts back on defense not even trying to rebound. But last night the guards were in there mixing it up with the big guys and getting results. Battle's 13 rebounds led the team effort in pulling down 37 rebounds to Michigan's 31. Cornley added 10 rebounds of his own despite missing the last 14 minutes in the first half. Say what you want about Ed's coaching ability, but the man is a class act. He sat his star player for three quarters of the first half after Cornley received a technical foul for arguing an offensive charge.
The boxscore didn't show it, but I thought DJ Jackson looked more aggressive last night. In fact the whole team looked more aggressive. Pringle was focused on driving the lane and dishing the ball. Jeff Brooks pulled in 5 rebounds. Great effort.
This was a good win on a few levels. It snapped an 11 game losing streak to the Wolverines for one thing. It also marked our sixth conference win and our fourth in a row at home, both highs in the Ed DeChellis era. It sure looked like we were left for dead when Geary Claxton went down against Wisconsin. I honestly didn't think we would win another game this year, but they proved me wrong winning four games since then. And with four freshmen seeing serious minutes and everyone but Claxton, Hassell, and Walker coming back next year the future is looking bright for the Nittany Lions.