Morrissey's Late Threes, Claxton's Block Lift Penn State To 65-61 Win Over St. Joe's
Cornley posts third double-double of season as Lions improve to 4-1
University Park, Pa., Nov. 25, 2006 - The Penn State basketball team wrapped up a five-game home slate to begin the season with a thrilling come-from-behind 65-61 win over previously unbeaten St. Joseph's (3-1) Saturday in the Bryce Jordan Center. The win improved Penn State to 4-1 on the year, the Nittany Lions' best start since going 9-1 to start the 2000-01 season.
Penn State trailed by eight with 1:20 to play, but a pair of Danny Morrissey (Cleveland, Ohio) three-pointers and eight-straight points from the sophomore in the final 50 seconds lifted Penn State to victory. Morrissey's last three, a bank shot from the top of the key, gave Penn State a 62-61 lead with 25 seconds to play. Geary Claxton (West Haven, Conn.), who played 19 minutes in his first game of the season since breaking his right hand in exhibition action Nov. 1, saved the victory rejecting an Ahmad Nivins' close range attempt with two seconds to play.
"Our kids made some plays and made a shot," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "We made some free throws and kept the ball from coming in bounds a couple of times. I'm giving our kids credit. We made some basketball plays when we had to. We didn't play great the second half. I think the lesson is whether you're up six or eight with a minute-and-a-half to go or you're down, you've got to keep fighting. I think our kids fought and never gave up and we ended up doing some good things."
Jamelle Cornley (Columbus, Ohio) led Penn State on the night posting his third double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds (seven offensive) in 37 minutes of hard fought play. Morrissey posted his third-straight game with three or more threes and third-straight in double-figures scoring 15 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the arc. Brandon Hassell (Farmersville, Ohio) recorded a career-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and several dunks and added seven rebounds, three steals and strong first half defensive work on Nivins in a career-high 36 minutes. Claxton finished with six points and five rebounds.
"He covers up a lot of ground, he rebounds, he's athletic," DeChellis said of Claxton. "He was really rusty out there, but I think he causes some havoc on the defensive end and made a big play when we needed to have a play made. We're thrilled to have him back."
After a game of runs in the first half in which Penn State held as much as an eight point lead midway through but allowed St. Joe's to tie it three times in the final eight minutes, Penn State took a 31-28 lead into the half. Penn State shot a season-best 50 percent (13-26) from the floor in the first 20 minutes and held Nivins (St. Joe's leading scorer averaging 18.0 ppg) in check allowing the 6-9 forward just four points on 2-of-5 shooting thanks in large part to Hassell's defense.
St. Joe's came out with more energy in the second half and Nivins scored four of the Hawk's first six points as the visitors took a 34-31 lead two minutes in. A Cornley tip-in got Penn State on the board in the second half and a bucket from Milos Bogetic (Podgorica, Serbia and Montenegro) and a dunk from Hassell off an in-bounds play (one of three dunks for the 6-11 forward on the night), returned the lead to Penn State, 37-36.
The teams battled within a few points of each other over the next five minutes with St. Joe's holding as much as a four-point lead. Another Hassell dunk, again off an in-bounds play, a Claxton free throw and a Cornley bucket sandwiched around a Nivins lay-up cut the St. Joe's lead to one at 45-44 with 10:04 to play. The Hawks then went on an 11-2 run over the next five minutes to put Penn State in serious trouble down 10, 56-46, with 5:07 to play.
"That's a problem," DeChellis said. "We just get to where we are lackadaisical with the ball and we're not sharp. Somehow I've got to take a look at that, because I don't think we had the same flow we had in the first half at all. We tried to run sets and tried to go to certain guys. We didn't get it to them and missed some stuff, had some fumbles. When we did get fouled we didn't make our free throws."
Nivins scored four points at the free throw line and Penn State made 1-of-3 from the floor, missed two free throws and committed two turnovers during the run capped by a pair of Pat Calathes free throws.
Claxton was fouled on a drive to the whole and made a pair of free throws and got a lay-up following a Cornley steal to cut the lead to six at 56-50. St. Joe's answered with a lay-up from D.J. Rivera off a pass from Calathes. Claxton again was fouled in the post and made 1-of-2 free throws and Cornley rebounded a missed Morrissey three and was fouled converting 1-of-2 to cut the lead back to six. A bucket by Rob Ferguson gave St. Joe's an eight-point lead, 60-52, with 1:20 to play and then Morrissey got going.
Penn State outscored St. Joe's 13-1 the rest of the way, with the sophomore posting eight straight points during a 25-second burst. Hassell started the run hitting a pair of free throws after being fouled by Ferguson. Claxton rebounded a missed front-end of a one-and-one by Rivera and then Morrissey was fouled on the other end by Jawan Carter and made both free throws. Morrissey sent Carter to the line on the other end and the freshman missed the front-end again for St. Joe's. Morrissey pump faked and then let fly from three on the other end nailing the trey to cut the lead to one at 60-59.
Mooch Jackson (Gaithersburg, Md.) fouled Nivins on the next possession and he made 1-of-2 at the line. Penn State ran Morrissey off a couple of screens on the other end and Ben Luber found the sophomore at the top of the key where he pulled up from 21 feet without hesitation and banked in the go-ahead three-pointer with 25 seconds to play.
St. Joe's took a timeout and set up a play for Nivins on the block. They got him the ball with just seconds remaining, but as he rose to shoot Claxton left his man and rejected Nivins' shot with his broken right hand. Jackson grabbed possession for Penn State and was fouled immediately by Nivins. Angered at the lack of a foul call on the play, coach Phil Martelli drew a technical on the St. Joe's bench and Luber went to the line hitting both free throws. Jackson made 1-of-2 following Luber to ice the game with Penn State leading 65-61 with just one tick of the clock to play.
Penn State will hit the road for the first time this season Tuesday as they head to Atlanta, Ga., to take on Georgia Tech at 8:00 p.m. in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game. The game will be the Nittany Lions' first television appearance of the season and will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
Georgia Tech (5-1) entered the week ranked No. 19 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and defeated Purdue (79-61) and No. 11/12 Memphis (92-85) to reach the final of the EA Sports Maui Invitational where they fell 88-73 to No. 5/5 UCLA on Wednesday.
Penn State is 1-0 all-time vs. Georgia Tech, having beaten the Yellow Jackets 75-70 in a 1998 NIT game in Atlanta, and is 1-4 in five previous appearances in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.