Penn State's New Year's resolution may be to start faster in games, but in 2008 they continued their streak of slow starts as the Nittany Lions had trouble with Northwestern early in their Big Ten opener.
Through 10 minutes of play, the Lions were beat by backdoor cuts and made lazy passes, putting themselves in an early hole.
In fact, the Lions played poorly through the first half against a team they have dominated in the past, but, once again their guard play came to the rescue to allow Penn State to pull out a 61-57 victory over the Wildcats.
Talor Battle is used to leading the Lions in scoring but not with seven points at the half. The Lions shot an uncharacteristically low 23 percent from the field in the first half of play, while the Wildcats were effective with 44 percent shooting against Penn State's swarming man-to-man defense.
Penn State also had trouble taking care of the ball, turning the ball over eight times in the first 20 minutes of play. Despite the poor play, though, the Lions trailed by only four at the half with the Wildcats leading 25-21.
Northwestern's leading scorer Kevin Koble for the past two seasons was held in check in the first half but broke out after the intermission, scoring seven of the Northwestern's first nine points out of the break. Koble's seven points pushed the Wildcats' lead to 34-23, which was the largest lead of the game for either team.
"The offense was running so smoothly in the first half with easy baskets that I didn't need to be a scorer, but then things opened up for me in the second half," said Koble.
Northwestern seemingly had control of the game until the Big Ten's leading scorer decided to throw his hat into the ring. Battle sparked an anxious crowd into a frenzy with a putback lay-up and a deep three to bring the score even at 36-36. Battle's second three gave Penn State their first lead since the 13:40 mark of the first half.
Penn State's second leading scorer Stanley Pringle was consistent, but for the wrong reasons as he recorded three turnovers in each half; six for the game, which was nearly half his point total.
"I think it was just one of those games where he had butterfingers and couldn't hold on to the ball, but I think you saw his composure in the end with his play late and the free throws," said Battle.
While Pringle struggled, Koble found his stride, which allowed Northwestern to stay in the game, as he scored all of his 11 points in the second half. A couple of late baskets by John Shurna kept it close in the late moments of the game as he led the team with 16 points.
Despite the early struggles, Battle proved why he was one of the premier guards in the Big Ten as he scored 19 of his season high 26 points in the second half; which included a span where he was 4-4 from behind the arc.
Battle has shown his maturity in his ability to persevere through early struggles.
"In the first half I just couldn't hit a shot, and the coaches came up to me and just said keep going at it. They cleared things out and I was able to put one down and they kept coming," said Battle on his second half performance.
Battle scored nearly half the Lions' points en route two their 12th victory of the season, a number that equaled his 12 rebounds in the game.
The only other double digit scorer for the Lions was Pringle, who finished with 14 points, which came at the right time for the Lions. With Pringle struggling and with Danny Morrissey and D.J. Jackson out with the flu Penn State had to look down the bench for help, and it came in the form of freshmen Cammeron Woodyard and Chris Babb. Babb logged a season high 20 minutes and recorded five points, but as Battle put it, the stat line was not the most important point.
"He had some great plays out there, it is not always about the production, he did some things out there that don't always show up, he was a big part of the game," said Battle.
The bench play shown against Northwestern may be a big factor in upcoming games especially next Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin versus the Bagers, head coach Ed DeChellis said.
"We have already won on the road against Penn and G-tech so I think this team is ready to go on the road," DeChellis said.