Penn State's tide of momentum swallowed up No. 15 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon as the Nittany Lions earned a 56-52 comeback victory over the Badgers before 14,292 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Talor Battle came on strong in the second half after struggling in the first to lead all scorers with 22 points. He also had two assists and five rebounds, including several key boards down the stretch. Jeff Brooks and David Jackson each finished in double figures for the Lions with 12 and 10 points respectively, and Andrew Jones added 14 important rebounds in the win.
Penn State held Wisconsin's two big scorers, Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, below their season averages and limited the Badgers to 23 second half points. The Lions also earned the rebounding edge for the sixth straight game, beating the Badgers 29-25 on the boards.
It didn't come easy, though. As they did against Iowa on Wednesday night, the Lions found themselves down double digits in the first half, trailing by as many as 13 at one point. While they regrouped to cut the deficit to nine by halftime, it still wasn't very pretty basketball for the first 20 minutes.
Despite all that, though, DeChellis said he was still confident of the direction of the game at the half as a result of Penn State's solid defensive play.
"I liked where the score was," DeChellis said. "I thought we had to keep it to a low, low 60s game and it was there, so I knew we still had a chance."
While their coach was confident, the players said they were loose in the locker room when asked if they were down on themselves.
"We don't have those thoughts no more, seriously," Battle said. "We were laughing around at halftime. We were actually comfortable and figured if we hit some shots we'd be right back in the game."
The Badgers outshot Penn State 54%-33% in the first half, but things swung dramatically in the other direction after the intermission as the Lions dominated shooting percentage 63%-32%.
Penn State also made a lot of hay from the free throw line, hitting 10 more shots than Wisconsin from the stripe. The Badgers only got three looks from the foul line in the game.
After the game, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan lamented the lack of big shots for his team in the game, but gave Penn State credit for a solid second half defensively.
"You've got a team that's so athletic and long with their seniors in Penn State," Ryan said. "All those guys are on the same page."
The win gives Penn State's its first win over Wisconsin in the Ed DeChellis era and first since 2003. The Lions now have three wins over top-25 opponents this season, their most since 2008-2009 when they won the NIT championship.
Illinois now looms on the horizon for Penn State, as the Lions will travel to Champaign on Tuesday to face the Fighting Illini. When the two teams met at the Jordan Center on Jan. 11, Penn State upset then-No. 16 Illinois 57-55. Since then, the Illini are 1-3, so they could be vulnerable at home.
DeChellis isn't getting too excited yet, though.
"This is a long race," DeChellis said. "We're halfway through, we've got nine more to go. But I like the fiber of our team. They really believe they can win."