Penn State held Senior Night at the Jordan Center Saturday. But a freshman stole the show for the Nittany Lions, as rookie guard Talor Battle had 28 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 69-61 win over Michigan.
All were career highs.
He's got that chemistry that rubs off on other guys, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. He's got that air of confidence.
From the beginning of the game I was hitting shots, and that's always good, Battle added.
The victory was State's first in 12 tries against the Wolverines, and with it the Lions leveled off at 14-14 on the season and 6-10 in the Big Ten. Michigan, which got an amazing performance from its own freshman — guard Manny Harris had 29 points — fell to 9-20 and 5-12.
This was a game of streaks by both teams. Thanks to Battle the Lions led most of the way, but every time they threatened to blow it open, the Wolverines came roaring back.
A Battle breakaway gave PSU a 40-29 lead early in the second half before a 20-7 run allowed Michigan to take its only lead of the period, 49-47. Lion senior Mike Walker made short work of that, hitting a 3-pointer to move PSU back in front. Battle followed with back-to-back treys and then passed to Walker for another bomb and just like that Penn State was up 59-49 with 6:13 showing.
Battle finished 7 of 9 from the arc for the Lions but Walker was not far behind at 5 of 8 or 15 points.
I can't tell you how much this game means to me, to have it on Senior Night, said Walker, who admitted that his final season has generally been a struggle.
But on this night everything was clicking. With the 10-point lead and the ball, Battle went up for a shot but realized he was too closely defended. So he threw a crazy pass to Walker, who spun to catch it and then unleashed a triple that drew all net.
Michigan coach John Beilein said the depth of Penn State's 3-point shots made them nearly impossible to defend.
They were pretty far away for anyone, he explained.
PSU was up 62-49 with 4:55 remaining. While there were some tense moments down the stretch as Harris kept the Wolverines from completely folding, the lead never dipped below six.
The capper came with 1:35 left, when State's other active senior — center Brandon Hassell — came up with a steal at mid-court and cruised in for an uncontested jam that pushed the lead to 67-58.
Though the Lions have one more regular-season home game (Indiana next Sunday), students will be gone for spring break then. So DeChellis and his staff decided to have Senior Night Saturday, instead.
And fittingly, both veterans pitched in for this win, PSU's fourth straight at home. But even they realized Battle was the story of this night, and probably will be for many more nights to come.
It was fun being out there with Talor, Walker said. Obviously he's the future of Penn State. Everyone is going to have fun watching him the next few years.
Battle missed a few minutes in the second half when he was knocked to the floor on a shot attempt and bruised his tail bone.
State has won four straight Big Ten homes games for the first time since taking all nine in 1996.
This win means Penn State can finish no lower than ninth in the Big Ten standings (the Lions swept 4-12 Illinois, which is now in 10th). But a Minnesota win over Ohio State Saturday means the Lion can finish no higher than seventh. The Buckeyes and Gophers are both 8-8 in the league now, and both hold head-to-head tie-breakers over PSU
All-Big Ten forward Geary Claxton is Penn State's third senior. He was unable to play Saturday as he is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Former PSU coach Jerry Dunn is now an assistant at Michigan, and this was his first trip back to the BJC. He and DeChellis — a former Dunn assistant — briefly shook hands before the game but did not appear to say much to one another.
PSU plays its final road game of the year at Wisconsin Wednesday (9 p.m., Big Ten Network).
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Penn State coach Ed DeChellis.
Michigan coach John Beilein.
Talor Battle and Mike Walker.