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Nov. 13, 2009
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; Nov. 13, 2009 - It wasn't nearly as easy as last year's meeting, but Penn State pulled away late to down Penn, 70-55, and win its fifth-straight season opener Friday in the Bryce Jordan Center before a crowd of 7,507 that included Hollywood movie star Denzel Washington courtside to watch his son, Malcolm, a Quaker freshmen.
Talor Battle (Albany, N.Y.) stole the show displaying his first-team All-Big Ten form and posting his fifth career double-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 39 entertaining minutes.
"Talor Battle is, as you guys all know, a terrific player and made a lot of plays for those guys tonight," Penn coach Glenn Miller said. "He makes his teammates better and we just had a tough time. We didn't have an answer for him as many teams don't."
Fellow junior Jeff Brooks (Louisville, Ky) posted just his fourth career double-digit game with 10 points on 2-of-2 shooting from three.
The Lions shot 48 percent on the night and made a strong second half surge to win the rebounding battle, 32-31, but went just 9-of-17 (52.9%) from the free throw line and 9-of-27 (33.3%) from three. Penn State saw two players (Andrew Ott and Andrew Jones) foul out as early foul trouble caused many starters to find the bench.
"We played one game and we didn't rebound the way we needed to, we didn't shoot free throws the way we needed to, we didn't defend the way we needed to," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "We've got a lot of stuff to work on, but it's the first game. I thought we made plays when we had to make plays to win the game. I knew this was going to be a tough game for us tonight. I knew it wasn't going to be like last year going down there and blowing them out early and chipping around the second half. I knew this would be a tougher game for us. I think they're much better than they were last year."
Penn was led by Jack Eggleston's 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Tyler Bernardini's 12 on 4-of-8, but shot just 37.5 percent (18-48) as a team and 5-of-23 from three.
Unlike last season when the Nittany Lions leapt to an early lead behind Stanley Pringle's hot shooting and took a 49-24 lead at the half, Penn took early control behind 10-straight points from Bernardini to begin the game and led 10-8 four minutes in.
Penn got the game more to its pace than last year's 85-73 Penn State victory in the Palestra and held the lead until a Cammeron Woodyard three gave the Lions a 13-12 advantage with 12:17 to play in the first half. Brooks followed with his first three and the Lions opened a 16-12 lead.
Battle was dominating in the half hitting driving, spinning lay-ups in traffic and wowing the crowd as he posted 17 first half points. After Penn closed to within one, Battle hit a pair of threes to push the lead to 24-17. Unfortunately, they would be his last of the night as he finished 2-of-8 from three, but 9-of-12 from inside the arc.
Eggleston and Zack Rosen downed a pair of threes for Penn and Mike Howlett had a layup and the Quakers led 25-24 with 6:37 to play following an 8-0 run.
Penn State regained control when walk-on Adam Highberger posted his first career points hitting back-to-back threes for a 34-28 lead. The junior, a former Pennsylvania all-state quarterback, had missed the last two seasons after suffering ACL tears in both knees.
Penn State built its lead back to eight after a lay-up by freshman Sasa Borovnjak and took a 36-29 lead to the half.
"Highberger made two big shots," DeChellis said. "Adam did a great job for us defensively. Those guys came in and did very, very nice job. It was a total team effort. We didn't play great individually. We've got a lot of work to do, but they came in and helped us and made some big baskets for us."
Penn hung within hailing distance for the first seven minutes of the second stanza. Brooks hit his second three for a 48-40 Penn State lead with 12:16 to play and the Quakers began to crack. Four quick Penn points, the last two on an Eggleston dunk, cut the lead to four, but Brooks hit again, Chris Babb added a three and David Jackson a free throw and the Lions had their first double-digit lead, 54-44, with 8:19 to play.
Penn ran off another 4-0 run capped by Eggleston to climb back within six, but the Lions went on a 7-1 run to claim a 12-point lead, 61-49, on another Battle twisting lay-up with 4:29 to play. Penn State would end the game on a 16-7 run to improve to 31-7 at home in the last three seasons and run its winning streak to six games dating to last season.
The Nittany Lions will return to the Bryce Jordan Center floor on Monday when they take on Northeast Conference favorite Robert Morris in a 7:30 p.m. tip.