Smile Politely

Trench warfare

“UCLA!” shouted Penn State assistant Dan Earl from the team bench. “Backscreen!”

“Dan Earl is calling out Illinois plays by name,” I casually volunteered to the Big Ten Network guy sitting next to me.

“Everybody knows everything about everybody else in this league,” he offered.

And maybe that’s the reason these two teams never get too far behind one another. It’s not that Ed DeChellis made off with the Illini playbook. It’s that they know each other really, really well.

The Nittany Grind always takes us to the last play of the game. This time, Talor Battle missed the winning shot.


Mike Tisdale grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. He blocked seven shots.

But Illinois was 13 of 39 on two-point field goals. Mike Davis hit one of six. Brandon Paul was zero for three from near, and zero for five overall.

Penn State shot worse. Like Gonzaga and Northwestern (first half), the Nittany Lions had all day to set up on the wing and contemplate jumpers. They hit only eight of 28 from distance, and 12 of 30 from inside the arc.

Maybe Illinois did right to leave Chris Babb, David Jackson and Bill Edwards wide open on the arc. The hard rim proved an excellent defender.

The looks Talor Battle got were not so wide open. Had Battle hit two of his seven attempts from long, Penn State wins. He hit one.

I thought the game was well-coached and well-contested on both ends. Penn State moved the ball beautifully. Their passes to the low post were occasionally breathtaking.

Watching Jeff Brooks (6-8, 240) and Bill Edwards (6-6, 240) bring the ball down court was the highlight of the night for me. It would have been the play of the game, too. After making a brilliant head fake, Brooks drove toward the right side of the lane, stopped, elevated, and popped a textbook bank shot which for whatever reason just didn’t go in.

I was especially impressed by how quickly Dan Earl recognized and called out Illini offensive patterns to his team. Given explicit directions, they were able to react quickly. I asked Dan about it after game.

Dan Earl and Ed DeChellis directed one hell of a game.

The Nittany Lions ran out of fouls to give, and that may have been the difference.

In the first half the Lions used the same strategy which won them last year’s game in Champaign. They intentionally (though not flagrantly or obviously) fouled Illini ball-handlers until the clock ran out. “You have one more to give” Ed DeChellis told guard Tim Frazier with 7 seconds to go. Frazier’s ensuing hack interrupted play at :04.

In the second half, PSU reached the bonus too soon. Their seventh and final team foul came at :17. It saved a possession for Illinois, and sent Mike Tisdale to the line.


Illinois is tied for first place with Michigan State heading into this weekend’s (brawl? cake walk?) at Breslin.

The NCAA Tournament is not entirely out of reach. Losing to Penn State at home on the 5th anniversary of our last Nittany Intersquad Triumph might as well have been abbreviated NIT.


I think the team grew this week. Mike Tisdale was looking for rebounds in a way I have not previously noticed. David Jackson moved him off the block a few times. Andrew Ott pounded him physically. But Tisdale stayed with it.

It was that way in the final seconds. Tisdale missed a crucial free throw, and immediately got back to make a game saving block. You can see his determination as he awaited the game’s final play.

The signature play of the game began with a Tisdale turnover (one of four). I wrote down “6:17” in my notes, but the play-by-play account doesn’t quite square with what I saw. (Maybe someone with a DVR can help.)

Mike Tisdale has grown into something of a badass.

Tisdale was stripped at the high-post, he immediately turned and gave chase. Battle ran through the lane. Tisdale arrived under the basket in time to affect the shot, and then pulled in the rebound.

This is nearly impossible to do against someone as quick as Talor Battle. When you’re seven-feet tall, it should by impossible by laws of physics.

When the action returned to the Illinois end, Tisdale grabbed an offensive board to keep the possession alive. It was a tremendous series for Mike, maybe his best all year.

I disagree that Mike Davis played uselessly. That seems to be what everyone’s saying.

He shot badly. He didn’t pull down ten rebounds. But I think his movement in the lane helped Tisdale get some of his 13 boards. Tisdale seemed to think so, too.

Illinois woefully lacks a guy willing/able to do dirty work in the paint. That Mike Tisdale looked so good is partly because Mike Davis did some of those little things well.

I do agree that Brandon Paul is in a funk. It’s hard to argue otherwise. He airmailed another jumper. His third consecutive fastbreak execution failure was almost immediately followed by his fourth.

Brandon Paul is having trouble near the basket.

Coach Weber provided concilliatory guidance to Brandon, and his parents Cliff and Lynda Paul (in a fantastic body-length purple fur coat) after finishing his radio interview. There’s not really a lot to worry about here. He’s adjusting to the college game. It just takes time.

Ted Valentine, Jon Perry and Dan Earl (L-R)


Jon Perry, Penn State’s youthful director of Basketball Opertions, said something to Ted Valentine. Or maybe he said something about Ted Valentine. It was just after Tisdale’s loudest rejection of the night, at 4:16 in the first half.

I guess the PSU bench wanted a foul call. They may have had an ongoing commentary about it. If so, it was intended to be overheard.

Valentine heard it.

He walked directly past the Lions’ bench, stopped, and looked directly down at Perry.

“How you doin’?” he eructed.

Press row burst in to laughter.

Maybe that wasn’t enough guidance, though. Later Ted added “I used to be a coach. I know how you work it.” Valentine then turned calmly around, and waved a perfunctory motion at Bruce Weber, directing the latter to step back off the court.


Shaun Pruitt paid a visit to his old stomping grounds Tuesday. He’s been in the states for a couple of weeks, en route from Greece to China (maybe).

To belie the notion that Pruitt is thoroughly vilified by his old teammates, I’ll point out that he was greeted warmly by Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey and Trent’s parents Stu and Susan Meacham.

SP caught up with SP after the game.


Related Articles