Maybe the Penn State men’s basketball team should head back to the IM Building.
In the biggest basketball game played at University Park in over a decade, the Nittany Lions came out and laid an egg on Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center, falling to No. 1 Ohio State, 82-61.
In a special mid-week edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the loss and predict what it means for Penn State’s NCAA tournament hopes.
The Bubble Bursts
Apparently, practicing in the big boy gym doesn’t make Ed DeChellis a better coach. After losing by just three points to Ohio State earlier this season, the Nittany Lions played one of their worst games of the season on Tuesday, getting blown out by the No. 1 Buckeyes by 21 points.
The Nittany Lions had everything working in their favor. Losses by some of the top teams in the nation propelled the Buckeyes back into the No. 1 spot. The Nittany Lions played host at the Bryce Jordan Center, where a crowd of 15,000-plus jammed the building to see if the Lions could remain on the bubble and perhaps get closer to punching a ticket to the NCAA tournament by upsetting the Buckeyes.
With a buzz in the air around Happy Valley, the hometown crowd and a national television audience watched as the Buckeyes put on a clinic and played with Penn State the way a cat toys with a mouse.
Even on Senior Night, when Penn State honored one of its best all-time players in guard Talor Battle, they could do nothing to stop the bleeding once the bloodletting began.
A couple of weeks ago, Penn State basketball supporters claimed that practicing in the IM Building hurt recruiting. No one wants to come to a school where the practice facilities are sub-standard, they said. Well, let me tell you, not showing up for a nationally-televised game hurts your recruiting more than a run-down facility ever could.
So who gets the blame for Tuesday’s mess? You certainly can’t blame Battle. The kid is all heart and plays with the same intensity whether the Lions are up 20 or down 20. That’s the sign of a winner. Unfortunately, for Battle, he will leave Penn State without ever having played in an NCAA tournament.
On Tuesday night, the Lions looked like they were not ready for the No. 1 Buckeyes. That falls directly on the head coach. With a huge home crowd on senior night, there’s just no excuse for that.
There was no practice controversy this week – Penn State had full access to the BJC in the days leading up to the game with the Buckeyes.
After the lopsided loss, Penn State coach Ed DeChellis had no answers.
“We picked a bad night to play really poorly,” DeChellis said.
What a night it would have been if the Nittany Lions could have pulled off a shocker against the No. 1 team in the nation, but when a team doesn’t prepare well, expectations must be lowered.
As he has often done during his eight-year tenure at Penn State, DeChellis shouldered very little of the blame.
“I just didn’t think we had ‘pop’ in what we were trying to do offensively and defensively, and then we didn’t make any shots early and that caught up with us,” DeChellis said.
That contradicted what Battle said following the loss.
“We didn’t practice well Sunday or Monday,” Battle said. “We played how we practiced.”
And when a team practices poorly, guess who that falls on? You guessed it: The head coach.
I’ve been involved with sports since I was a youngster. I realized at an early age that a team is a reflection of its head coach. The Penn State basketball program has an average coach – his won-loss record reflects that. It wouldn’t matter if this team had five Talor Battles – it would still be very ordinary.
It’s a shame, because a player like Battle deserves better. He should be playing the NCAA tournament. Barring a miracle at the Big Ten Tournament, Battle will be relegated to the National Invitation Tournament. You know, the “other” tournament in March. Worse yet, he could be sitting at home watching both tournaments on television.
Battle took Tuesday night’s loss hard.
“We just didn’t have it tonight. It sucks, because the atmosphere was great. I think I heard that we had one of the largest crowds (ever). I thank those guys, but I’m thoroughly disappointed,” Battle said.
I once made the bold prediction that the Penn State football team would not contend for a BCS National Championship until coach Joe Paterno retires. I stand by that prediction.
I will now make another one. The Penn State men’s basketball team will not make the NCAA tournament until the powers that be hire a new head coach. DeChellis has had eight seasons to get his team to the Big Dance.
He’s failed in every single one.
Will there ever be a change at Penn State? Who knows? It’s unlikely
If the athletic department is content with .500 records and NIT bids, why should the fans expect anything more?
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He is also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at email@example.com. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!