Despite Battle, losses pile up at Penn State
A bump here, a shove there - Talor Battle gets quite the workout from defenders while trying to get open for shots.
It's the least of coach Ed DeChellis' worries at struggling Penn State.
Another fine season for Battle isn't translating into wins for the Nittany Lions (8-16, 0-12 Big Ten), off to a school-worst league start and the team's longest losing streak in four years. Battle is the only player in the six BCS conferences to lead his team in points (19.5 per game), rebounds (5.3), assists (3.8) and steals (1.2).
Penn State is also one of two BCS conference teams still winless in conference play, with LSU sporting an 0-11 record in the Southeastern Conference. The Nittany Lions' next game is Wednesday at Northwestern.
This isn't the way Penn State wanted to follow up on its 2009 NIT championship.
``The way I have to come off screens and get open this year is a lot more difficult than last year. I do a lot more running this year,'' Battle said before a recent practice.
``People tell me after the game, I don't know how you just run around like that for the whole game. Sometimes I don't know how I do it either, but I'm just trying to get open.''
Battle's teammates haven't stepped up on a consistent basis to take the heat off the star.
No other Nittany Lion is scoring in double figures, though forward David Jackson has managed to increase his scoring output in conference games (10.6 points) compared to his season average (9.2).
Battle faces more double teams and fresh bodies from opposing defenses, wearing down the do-everything point guard.
``By the end of the game, I'm like a rag doll every time I come off a screen or go to the hoop,'' the junior said.
In his seventh year coaching at his alma mater, DeChellis hasn't found the right supporting cast to surround Battle.
Jackson has been the team's second-best player, a small forward who plays solid defense and scrapes for rebounds and loose balls. But he's not a go-to scorer who demands the ball when Battle is tied up.
Sophomore guard Chris Babb probably has the team's smoothest shooting touch, but hasn't shown enough consistency on offense to be a reliable scoring option.
It's up front where Penn State has taken the biggest step back.
Center/forward Andrew Jones has regressed after a promising sophomore season, in part suffering from a lack of second-low post threat. That part was played to perfection last season by emotional leader and power forward Jamelle Cornley, who has since graduated.
Another forward, Jeff Brooks, has a 6-foot-8 frame that could be dangerous down low, but he often prefers to work from the outside. Andrew Ott offers some offensive touch for a 6-10 forward, but can be a liability defensively against the league's more-skilled big men.
A frustrated DeChellis sometimes sounds as if he's out of answers. Coaches have tried to be more demanding at times, and have let up at other points.
``We've tried different lineups, we've tried film, we've tried all different things,'' he said. ``I keep saying and pounding into our guys, somehow this is going to build character.''
Besides Battle, one of the few bright spots that DeChellis can build on is that the squad has hung close in many games. The Nittany Lions have played six contests which have been decided by six points or less, or in overtime; last year, Penn State went 7-3 in such Big Ten games.
The Nittany Lions keep losing those games this year.
Like blowing a 16-point lead to Michigan with 12:24 left.
Or giving up an eight-point lead with 2 minutes in regulation during an overtime loss at Wisconsin.
In each case, the Nittany Lions suffer through bouts in which they lose defensive focus, unable to limit the hot hand from the perimeter or the contain the big man in the post.
Against Michigan State, Penn State took a 46-44 lead with about 12 minutes left before falling victim to the Spartans' defensive intensity in a 65-54 loss on Saturday.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo felt badly for his friend, DeChellis.
``That's the best 0-12 team I've seen in a long, long time in the league,'' Izzo said. ``I've watched so much tape on them and have seen what they have done with every team and they just haven't been able to win.''