On a night when not a whole lot went right for the Nittany Lions, Jeff Brooks stepped up big for Penn State.
The senior forward scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 66-57 Lion win plagued by poor shooting from the field and even poorer shooting from three point territory to save Penn State from what might have been a very embarrassing home performance.
The two teams combined to shoot 5-42 from the arc. Penn State was a putrid 1-21 or 4.8%. After David Jackson opened the game with a triple, Penn State went 0-20 from deep. Brothers Talor Battle (0-6) and Taran Buie (0-4) combined to miss half of those.
Despite the offensive woes, though, Penn State managed to lead comfortably through most of the game after falling behind early thanks to another solid defensive performance. The Lions held the Hawks to 19 first half points and forced 19 turnovers. Even without making shots, the defense allowed Penn State to pretty much coast through the evening as St. Joseph's had trouble closing the gap closer than five points.
Battle scored 15 points on a night when he didn't quite have his game together offensively, and credited the team defense for stepping up.
"That's one thing we've really been doing well, I think, and that's defending," Battle said. "There's one thing that can always be constant and that's your energy level and you can really defend."
Battle said coach Ed DeChellis has emphasized energy as Penn State has struggled to get the offense going from the field in the first two games.
One place Penn State looked visibly better Tuesday evening was at the foul line. After looking sub-par in an exhibition game and the season opening win over against Lehigh last Friday, Penn State came out and kept adding points from the stripe while its offense from the field struggled. The Lions hit 25-34 from the strip for 73%, allowing them to keep the Hawks in the distance.
Brooks led the charge from the free throw line, hitting all four of his foul shots in addition to leading all scorers in the game. Battle said Brooks was big for Penn State in the win.
"He's playing really well," Battle said. "He's really taking the pressure off me. Hopefully he continues, which I think he will for the rest of the season. I'm his biggest fan. We came in together and its great to see him really playing to his potential."
Brooks credits his turnaround early this season to rebounding. Through two games, he's averaging nine rebounds, almost five more than he averaged last season. He also grabbed two of Penn State's 13 offensive rebounds, something he feels will be important for Penn State this season.
"I'm going to try to keep it up," Brooks said. "With those offensive boards you get extra possessions and with extra possessions we have an extra chance to score so it's pretty big for our team to get some extra possessions and make sure we get a bucket on every possession."