Scoring G Battle gets more help at Penn State

Finally, Talor Battle has a little more help at Penn State.

A year after a last-place finish in the Big Ten, the Nittany

Lions have suddenly made midseason waves with back-to-back upsets

of ranked teams Michigan State and Illinois. In success-starved

Happy Valley, that’s big news, something the team hadn’t

accomplished since the 1954 NCAA tournament.

The go-to guy is still Battle, the Big Ten’s gritty leading

scorer (20.9 points).

His supporting cast, though, has stepped up to prove that

veteran-laden Penn State (10-6, 3-2) has the potential to maybe,

just maybe, make things interesting for the conference’s top

contenders.

An even tougher challenge comes Saturday, when the Nittany Lions

visit No. 2 Ohio State.

”It’s so early, but we can’t be satisfied with what we’ve done

so far,” Battle said Thursday before practice, ”so it’s not just

upsets anymore. We’re expected to win.”

That wasn’t the case last season, when Battle was pretty much

Option 1 and 1a when Penn State needed a bucket. Or a key rebound.

Or a steal.

And the Nittany Lions finished 11-20 (3-15). Battle averaged

18.5 points, but no other teammate averaged more than 9.5.

This season, Battle averages 20.9, but there are more sources of

production. Six-foot-8 Jeff Brooks has nearly doubled his scoring

to 13.3, while fellow forward, 6-foot-7 David Jackson is scoring

10.6 and playing his typically solid all-around game.

Both players have been instrumental in Penn State’s mini-run, as

has 6-foot-10 forward Andrew Jones, whose dunk of a missed layup by

Battle with 1 second left upset No. 16 Illinois 57-55 Tuesday

night. Jones averages just more than six points for the season, but

14 and six rebounds over the last two games.

All three forwards have played with energy under the boards to

match Battle’s motor on the court.

”It’s a sense of urgency for the seniors. Time is running

out,” Battle said.

Battle said he’s also become more of a student of the game. He

knows what tendencies and advice coach Ed DeChellis and his staff

may give during timeouts before he gets to the huddle. DeChellis

said Battle understands not only what is expected of him, but of

his teammates as well, an understanding that has grown over the

years.

”It’s a sign of a maturity of a young guy. The sign of a good

person,” DeChellis said. ”He always wants to do the right thing

… and that’s a great trait.”

While he still gets the ball when he wants, especially at crunch

time, Battle is now freed up from primary ballhandler

responsiblities. Sophomore point guard Tim Frazier has moved into

the starting lineup full-time, allowing Battle to play off the ball

more.

Against Illinois, Battle hit 3s from 35 and 28 feet,

respectively, to the dismay of coach Bruce Weber.

”The two bombs just killed us,” Weber said. ”That’s what good

players do, they make the tough play and the tough shot.”

With such range, no wonder he’s threatening to eclipse the

school career points record of 2,138 set by Jesse Arnelle in 1955.

He needs 279 more to pass, meaning he would need to average about

20.4 the rest of the season.

But Battle knows too well how quickly momentum can disappear.

Penn State’s 2009 NIT championship was followed up by the 11-20

finish in 2009-10.

This season, Penn State lost each of its high-profile

nonconference matchups (Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia Tech), plus

a potentially damaging loss to Maine the last game before

Christmas.

Now, the Buckeyes loom in Columbus on Saturday, with a potential

No. 1 ranking on the line for Ohio State after top-ranked Duke lost

this week.

”When you’re sitting at 8-6, you’ve got a lot to prove. ‘Who

are you,’ you almost wants to say. No one cares about you. It’s

never what we did to win the game. It’s always how the other guys

lost the game,” Battle said. ”We’re just trying to do all we can

to do to win games, and doing that, the recognition will just come

naturally.”