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.''