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Bittersweet Finish

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So you probably know by now that the Penn State men's hoops team lost to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament bringing our season to an end. I was going to give you a breakdown of the game, but let me sum it up this way; The game was basically a microcosm of our season. We struggled to find our way in the beginning. We started to get it together, but then we suffered some setbacks and dug ourself a hole. We rallied in the closing minutes, but ultimately we fell just short of reaching our goal.

Before the season Ed said our goal was to win the Big Ten and go to the NCAA tournament. Obviously we fell pretty short of that goal. But there is no crying in Happy Valley today. For the sun is rising over Mount Nittany and showering light upon this once downtrodden program. For the first time in a long time, there is hope surrounding this program.

I said the other day that this is Talor Battle's team. He's only a freshman, but he has already shown the ability to lead this team and take over a game. Today he had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. He does it all, and when he learns how to make his teammates better he's going to be incredible.

Jeff Brooks struggled for much of the season as he seemed hesitant and lacked confidence. After Geary Claxton went down he was thrown into the fire and forced to take on more minutes. For a while it looked like he regressed and his minutes began to tail off. But a few weeks ago something clicked. He stopped thinking and just started having fun and playing basketball again. The results have been amazing as his production dramatically improved. Today he finished with 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists before fouling out after just 29 minutes of play. The focus for him this offseason will be to add bulk and strength to his 6'8" 205 lb frame.

Another freshmen who made great strides late in the season was David Jackson. Late in the year he turned up the aggressiveness at urging of the coaches. He crashed the boards harder and took open shots he was turning down earlier in the season. He reached his peak against Indiana when he recorded his first career double-double. Today he added 9 points and 6 rebounds.

But it wasn't all freshmen that sparked this team. The contribution of Stanley Pringle cannot be overlooked. Early in the year he provided an instant spark off the bench. His speed took a lot of teams by surprise, but early on he was often out of control and drove the length of the court just to turn it over. Later in the year he settled down and learned how to control that speed. That's when he became dangerous driving the lane and dishing the ball off to his teammates under the basket. His outside shooting along with his penetration ability gave defenses plenty to think about. He and Battle make a dangerous backcourt combination.

Indeed the future is bright next year. Joining these fabulous freshmen will be a couple of big men in Billy Oliver and Andrew Ott. And don't forget Jamelle Cornley will be back and healthy in time for the season.

But today wasn't all bad news for Penn State. Early this evening Ed Dechellis undoubtedly had a smile on his face when Chris Babb called him to commit to Penn State. The 6'5" 205 lb swing man is reportedly a very good ball handler and perimeter defender. But he has the size and strength to crash the boards as well. And he has no shortage of offense as he averages an impressive 31 points per game for his high school in Arlington, TX. This is a fantastic addition for the team and a player that should be able to step on the court and play right away. After a year of adjusting next season he'll be poised to assume a starting two guard role after Danny Morrissey and Stanley Pringle graduate. Even though we lost today, it's hard to imagine our future looking any brighter.

UPDATE: David Jones has the story on Chris Babb's commitment.