Indianapolis — Penn State (18-13; 9-9 Big Ten) put a big star on its NCAA resume Friday downing No. 3 seed and 13th-ranked Wisconsin (23-8; 13-5 Big Ten), 36-33, in an intense defensive battle in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in Indianapolis, Ind. The victory propels Penn State into its first Big Ten semifinal appearance since 2001.
The Nittany Lions logged their fourth victory over a Top 25 ranked team on the year, equaling the second-most in program history, and posted their sixth win in their last eight games since second leading scorer Jeff Brooks returned from a shoulder injury. They will advance to the Big Ten semifinals for the first time since knocking off No. 2 ranked Michigan State in the 2001 quarters before eventually advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Sixth-seeded Penn State advances to play No. 7 seed Michigan State (19-13; 9-9 Big Ten), which upset No. 2 seed and 9th-ranked Purdue, 74-56, in quarterfinal action Friday. The Nittany Lions and Spartans will square off at approximately 4 p.m. Saturday in the second semifinal of the Big Ten Tournament. Fourth-seeded Michigan, a comeback winner over No. 5 seed Illinois, and No. 1 seeded and No. 1 ranked Ohio State, which held off Northwestern, will play in the first semifinal of the day at 1:40 p.m. Both games will be broadcast live on CBS.
On Friday, the Nittany Lions leapt to an 18-2 lead before holding on for victory in the lowest scoring game in Big Ten Tournament history. Penn State held Wisconsin to 29 percent shooting on the night and got balanced scoring from all five starters to post its second win over the Badgers on the year.
Talor Battle led Penn State with nine points on the night, none bigger than his fade-away three with 2:24 to play that staked the Lions to a 35-30 lead. The shot pushed Battle past All-American Jesse Arnelle as the all-time leading scorer in Penn State basketball history eclipsing Arnelle’s 56-year-old mark of 2,138. Battle finished the night with 2,141.
Backcourt mate Tim Frazier logged a strong all-around game with eight points and team highs of seven rebounds and four assists. David Jackson added seven points and Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones six each as all five starters played 35 minutes or more in a slugfest.
Jordan Taylor led Wisconsin with 16 and Jon Leuer added 10, but the rest of the Badgers scored just seven points and went 3-of-13 from the floor. The Badgers shot 2-of-21 from three and were out-scored seven points to one at the foul line.
Penn State came out of the gate sizzling as Battle and Jackson both downed threes. The Lions would sprint out to a 14-0 lead after seven minutes as Wisconsin missed its first eight from the field. Jackson hit a 15-foot jumper, Andrew Jones got a lay-up and Frazier got a steal and lay-up to make it 12-0 as Badger coach Bo Ryan pulled his starting five.
Another Jackson jumper made it 14-0 before Wisconsin got on the board with 12:30 to play as Taylor gathered a loose ball and got a short jumper. A Frazier driving lay-up built Penn State’s lead to 16, 18-2, with 9:54 to play, but as torrid as the Lions started, they finished just as cold. Frazier’s bucket would be Penn State’s last field goal of the half as the Badgers foiled the Penn State offense.
Taylor got a jumper and a three and Jon Leuer hit a baseline jumper to cut the Lion lead to 18-11. Frazier drove and got fouled. He went to the line and hit both for Penn State’s only two points in the final 9 minutes of play.
Wisconsin used the slowed Penn State offense to make a 14-2 run and close the Penn State margin to four, 20-16, at the half. Leur hit another jumper and Taylor made one of two at the line to close the scoring in the half. Battle’s deep desperation three as the shot clock expired came up short and exemplified the Lions last frustrating 10 minutes of play. Battle finished 1-of-8 in the half and second leading scorer Jeff Brooks failed to score.
The teams combined 36 first half points tied for the lowest in Big Ten Tournament history as the Badger shot just 28 percent, 1-of-11 from three, and Penn State 35 percent.
The scoring slowed even further in the second half as the teams combined for just 33 points and shot a combined 13-42 from the floor. But, Penn State bared down and won a battle of wills, getting big shots when they counted.
Penn State led by no more than four in the half until Battle’s late three. Penn State built an early four-point lead on a Brooks jumper, but Wisconsin scored four straight to tie the game at 22 on a Mike Bruesewitz lay-up with 14:22 to play.
Wisconsin tied the game twice more in the next four minutes before Jones went to the line and hit a pair of free throws to give Penn State a 28-26 lead with 8:49 to play. The Lions would lead the rest of the way, though precariously.
Wisconsin got back within two, 30-28, on a Ryan Evan tip-in with 6:38 to go. A Battle jumper pushed the lead back to four, but Taylor answered on the other end and the Lions led just 32-30 with 3:57 left.
Frazier hit Battle deep on the right wing and the 6-0 guard jumped in the air and lofted a high arching three that splashed the net to make it 35-30 and give the Lions their biggest breathing room since the final minutes of the first half.
Penn State jumped to stop Taylor on the other end and he fed Nankivil who hit his lone basket of the game to cut the lead to 35-33 with 1:00 left. Battle missed a driving lay-up and Wisconsin went for the lead, but Taylor’s three came up short. Battle grabbed the board and was fouled by Josh Gasser.
The senior looking for the program’s first NCAA appearance in 10 years went to the line and sank the first of two. The second rattled out and Wisconsin had a chance to tie. Taylor’s long three with two seconds to play went wide and Battle ran to hug Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis.
Penn State and Michigan State split the season series with the Nittany Lions taking a 66-62 victory over the then No. 18 ranked Spartans in State College and Michigan State posting a 75-57 victory in East Lansing. The teams have met just once in the Big Ten Tournament with Penn State claiming a 65-63 quarterfinal victory over the No. 2 ranked Spartans in 2001 on Joe Crispin’s three in the final seconds. Penn State has advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals twice before (2000 & 2001), but has lost on both occasions.