All season, Talor Battle has talked about playing on CBS in March. On Saturday, he got his chance and ran with it.
The senior leader racked up 25 points in the biggest game of his life, helping Penn State topple Michigan State 61-48 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals to earn a spot in the conference title game on Sunday and, perhaps, a spot in the NCAA Tournament field.
Sophomore Tim Frazier played Robin to Battle's Batman, posting a season-high 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the win. Senior Jeff Brooks added eight points on the afternoon as well as six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Penn State trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, but a strong early performance by Frazier kept the Lions in it and allowed them to head into the locker room with a 26-26 tie at halftime. After the break, Battle broke Sparty's back early, drilling four 3-pointers in a three minute span to give Penn State a double-digit lead it would never relinquish.
The Lions now advance to take on mighty No. 1 Ohio State for the tournament title. Though most prognosticators seem to have Penn State solidly in the tournament at this point, the only way Penn State can assure itself of a berth is with a victory, and that won't be easy. The Buckeyes will be the first team in this Big Ten Tournament that Penn State hasn't previously beaten and they obliterated the Lions 82-61 on Penn State's senior night last week at the Bryce Jordan Center. With games the last three days, it'll be a tall task for the Lions, but hey, no one thought Penn State would be here in the first place, did they?
- Battle's 3-point barrage was great, but Penn State's defense was a bigger key in this game. For the second night in a row, the Lions held their opponent under 50 points, 40% shooting. That's phenomenal. The zone rotations looked as good as they have all season and, if you remember the trouble this team had with them early last season, it's unbelievable how far they've come to put together efforts like these when they needed them the most.
- Along with the defense, the Lions rebounding was important. Granted, a lot of the success had to do with the volume of bricks Michigan State was putting up, but a 36-28 margin on the boards against a team as solid rebounding the basketball as the Spartans is still quite an accomplishment.
- While three of his seniors failed miserably to produce on offense, Tim Frazier did something not a lot of other people thought he could do: score. His eight assists and six rebounds were great, too, but those 22 points and 11 in the first half were beyond huge, and without them, Penn State probably isn't playing Ohio State on Sunday.
- Talor Battle did what Talor Battle does and no one should be surprised. If you were Tom Izzo and the Spartans heading in, you couldn't have possibly had a good feeling knowing Bubby had struggled as miserably as he did in the first two games. He was a ticking time bomb and he went off on Michigan State as he has so many times before.
- Penn State committed only six turnovers, and that was a big help in controlling the pace. The Spartans surely would have liked to run against a thin Lion team playing its third game in three days, but Penn State just didn't allow for it with the way it took care of the ball.
- Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson combined for 12 points. It was the biggest game of their lives and they simply didn't contribute offensively. All three racked up at least two fouls in the first half, and Jones and Jackson sat when the team really could have used them in recovering from an early deficit. The trio had at least five rebounds each, though, and played very well defensively so it's hard to give them too much flak. They'll have to be better against Ohio State and in the next tournament, however, or Penn State is sunk.
- The bench contributed almost nothing once again. Jermaine Marshall had two points and three boards but that was it. Winning three games in three days is hard enough. Doing it with basically five guys playing significant minutes is astounding.
- Even though Penn State seems to play better coming from behind, you never like to see a double-digit deficit in the first half. The Lions took the first punch well, but as they learned against Indiana and Wisconsin, it doesn't hurt to throw it a couple of times either.
- This is all subject to change throughout Saturday evening, but at the moment, Joe Lunardi (h/t to PSUinBOSSton and mundyscorner99 for the link) has Penn State as only his third team in. That's ominously close to the bubble. If a few teams can steal bids, who knows what might happen? Don't start booking flights yet, folks.
- Michigan State was 17-53 from the field. That's only marginally better than Wisconsin's 15-51 Friday night. The Spartans drew lots and lots of iron in the second half, too. It was pretty ugly.