If people weren't paying attention before, they are now.
Despite shooting less than 35% for the game and less than 30% from 3-point territory, Penn State hung on for a 57-55 upset triumph over No. 16 Illinois on Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. The win, which followed a victory over No. 19 Michigan State on Saturday, gave the Nittany Lions (10-6, 3-2) their first wins over ranked opponents in consecutive games for the first time since 1954, when the team appeared in the NCAA Tournament Final Four.
And once again, Penn State has Talor Battle to thank.
The star senior guard scored a game high 26 points in the win for the Lions, some of them coming in spectacular fashion. In the second half, Battle twice hit 3-point shots from at least 10 feet behind the perimeter arc. On the former of the two, Battle had his foot on the Penn State mid-court logo.
Forward Andrew Jones also got in in the action big time, tip slamming home a Talor Battle miss with .7 seconds on the clock after Illinois' Mike Tisdale rotated off Jones to cover Battle, all but sealing the win for Penn State. The senior finished with 12 points and eight rebounds on the evening. It was the final play that will have people buzzing, though.
"I actually shot it kinda like a hook just to get it on the glass," Battle said. "Coach always talks, you know, 'get it on the glass' because especially if the help guy comes, there's a weak side rebounder and I let Drew take it from there."
Jones was just thankful he was able to take advantage.
"Obviously when [Battle] goes to the bucket he's going to have two or three defenders on him," Jones said. "Tisdale...why he did, I don't know, but he left me and T got it up on the glass and I just threw it in."
As they did against Michigan State, the Lions won the rebounding statistic, this time 33-28 and 10-4 on the offensive glass. Guard Tim Frazier grabbed eight of those rebounds, and Jeff Brooks had 10. Jones credits the strong efforts on the boards to standing tall while rebounding.
"I think the last two games, we put the emphasis on not letting other teams get momentum moving toward the basket," Jones said. "You try to beat them early, and so as the ball is coming, we're kind of a stand still, we're not on our heels."
Penn State also excelled at the foul line, hitting 14-14, as well as forcing limiting and forcing turnovers. The Lions forced the Illini to cough the ball up 15 times and limited themselves to 10 on the evening.
It was defensively where the Lions really made hay, however. Though Penn State did allow Mike Tisdale to get free for 16 points and 14 rebounds, the Lions effectively limited the rest of the Illinois roster, including star guard Demetri McCamey, who came in averaging over 16 points per game but was held to 10 on Tuesday.
Coach Ed DeChellis is pleased with his team's progress in the defensive end.
"I think we're playing better defensively," DeChellis said. "Sometimes it takes some time to get everything jelling and moving in the right direction. I think we defended and rebounded the ball and gave ourselves a chance to win."
Penn State has now won two of three in its murderous five game stretch of games against ranked opponents.On Saturday, the team will travel to Columbus to take on No. 2 Ohio State, and that will be followed by a trip to West Lafayette to face No. 8 Purdue.
Though DeChellis is pleased with the recent victories, he realizes the challenges that lie ahead.
"This is a very unforgiving league and you can't look to far ahead," DeChellis said. "You can't get too excited when you win a couple games."