As coach Ed DeChellis said after the game, it was a tale of two halves.
Penn State defeated Lehigh 70-56 on Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center in front of 5996 fans, but only after a strong second half push helped the Nittany Lions overcome a six point halftime deficit.
Talor Battle led all scorers with 21 points. The Lions also got double figure scoring from D.J. Jackson (14 points), Jeff Brooks (10) and Billy Oliver (10). Many of Jackson and Brooks' came in the second half after assistant coach Lewis Preston challenege the seniors at halftime.
"He said that we weren't playing aggressive enough on offsense," Brooks said. "He said we were doing a good job on defensive rebounding but offensively, we weren't anywhere to be found. So that was the thing that just kicked me and D.J. into overdrive."
And turn it into overdrive they did. At halftime, the pair had a combined three points, but in the second half, both came out firing, scoring a combined 21 of Penn State's 49 points after the break. Both made their presence felt on the glass, too, with Jackson grabbing five rebounds and Brooks adding nine. Brooks also had five blocks, the most for a Penn State player in a game since 2003.
Freshman Taran Buie made his anticipated debut on Friday night, and made some modest contributions. In 18 minutes, he scored five points, grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist to Jeff Brooks on an ally-oop.
The Lions now prepare for a home contest against St. Joseph on Tuesday night at the Jordan Center. The Hawks dropped their season opener to Western Kentucky 98-70 on Friday night, so Penn State could be in position to pick up another win if it plays well.
- Defense, defense, defense. As poor as the Nittany Lions looked on the offensive end in the first half, their defensive rotations in man-to-man sets looked excellent, and far ahead of where they were at the beginning of last season. Lehigh made some shots, but most all were contested, and Penn State made it tough on the Mountain Hawks all night long. Star Lehigh guard C.J. McCoullum might have had the most trouble, scoring only seven points in 28 minutes.
- The foul shooting improved from a horrendous 11-19 against East Stroudsburg in an exhibition win on Sunday to a solid 14-17 on Friday night.
- Billy Freakin' Oliver was gunning from three point territory. The redshirt freshman forward was 2/5 from deep on Friday night after hitting a pair of triples against East Stroudsburg. If he keeps it up, he'll be a legitimate perimeter threat for the Lions, and one nobody expected them to have heading into the season.
- The students showed up in droves, packing the sideline and one endzone section while partially filling the other.
- First halves like the one the Lions played Friday night will get them killed against better competition. Ed DeChellis said after the game, "We just weren't playing with any purpose. Our seniors weren't really doing much of anything and we have to have those guys play and do some good things for us." Penn State will go nowhere fast if slow first halves continue.
- While Penn State put the clamps on McCollum, they had trouble stopping Lehigh's Anthony D'Orazio in the first half as he racked up 14 points. The Lions need to make sure they don't undo the good of stopping a star player by letting a role player take them for a ride like D'Orazio did tonight.
- Penn State's 36% shooting from the field isn't anything to get particularly excited about.
- Talor Battle had to be carried off the court with about nine minutes left to play in the first half. He returned about three minutes of game time later. DeChellis said he only rolled his ankle and expects Battle to be fine, but it was an unsettling scene nevertheless.
- Referee Ed Hightower was in mid-season form nailing both teams with loads of offensive fouls. No wonder Penn State had a hard time getting into a rhythm to start the game.
Lehigh coach Brett Reed
- "Credit Battle for being such a tremendous player and finding opportunities, especially to extend the game in a critical time in the second half."
- "Credit Penn State for finding the right kind of opportunities. They utilize their size and were able to take advantage of that. They utilize their perimeter shooting as well and were able to knock down some shots, but I also though penetration was a bit of a key in the game. They open up things and kind of create."
- "We're gonna need to get three guys in double figures [beyond Battle] to be successful."
- On Battle's buzzer three to end the first half: "Sometimes it takes one play to ignite you and get you going."
- On Billy Oliver: "He stepped up tonight. It's very exciting for us because now me and D.J. know that if we get tired or we get hurt, something like that, Billy can just step right in, fill that spot and play his game."
- "We had a very good student turn out today and it's really big just to build some excitement get wins in our building. One of our goals is to really protect our home court because I think we have about 18 home games. If we can really win a majority of those or even all of those, it's really going to put us in a position to make the NCAA Tournament."