MILWAUKEE — Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis certainly made the biggest understatement of the night Sunday at the Bradley Center during the Black Coaches Association Classic.
‘Those two kids are really going to help them,’ said DeChellis, referring to Illinois State junior college transfers Lorenzo Gordon and Nedu Onyeuku.
The ISU newcomers tore up Penn State’s defense in the second half, combining for 30 of their team’s 50 points, to lead the Redbirds to a season-opening 82-73 victory.
ISU rode a wave of scoring from Gordon, Onyeuku and Trey Guidry to defeat a team from the Big Ten Conference for only the fifth time in school history.
MILWAUKEE — Lorenzo Gordon believes Illinois State basketball fans should expect a lot of points from him every game.
‘All the time,’ said the 6-foot-7 Gordon when asked how often he can score in flurries like he did Sunday night.
Gordon scored 14 straight points for ISU to begin the second half and help the Redbirds to an 82-73 opening-round victory over Penn State in the Black Coaches Association Classic at the Bradley Center.
‘Our scouting report said they weren’t really good on post defense,’ said Gordon, who also handled six rebounds. ‘I tried to expose that. Coach told me to keep battling and that’s what I did.’
Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said Gordon did a great job of posting on the inside to get the ball.
‘Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job of guarding him,’ added DeChellis. ‘When we finally got him under control, they started taking us off the dribble. They drove the ball and kicked it and got what they wanted.
‘We emphasised guarding the perimeter because they have three good players out there. They did a good job of getting the ball inside and taking it right at us to get the lead.’
College basketball season seems to start earlier every year. For Penn State this year, it doesn’t seem to. It does.
The Nittany Lions tip off at 6:30 p.m. today against Illinois State in the eight-team Black Coaches Association tournament at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. It is the earliest start in PSU history.
Should they beat the Redbirds, 10-19 and last place in the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago, the Nits probably will meet the host Marquette Golden Eagles in the second round tomorrow night. The final-round games are Tuesday.
That’s three games in three nights, regardless of the results, for a team that finished last in the Big Ten (9-19, 3-13) for the third straight year in ’03-04, with five new faces and two new starting forwards this season.
What is coach Ed DeChellis thinking? He’s thinking as much PT as possible as quickly as possible.
‘We wanted to do something where our young kids would have to play and we could get our young kids as much experience as we could,’ he said.
Right now, you could split the Penn State men’s basketball team into three categories — known commodities, new faces that could soon be known commodities, and everyone else.
The Nittany Lions open their season against Illinois State in the Black Coaches Association Classic at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee with a number of unknowns, a prospect at once unnerving and encouraging for a team that has won 23 games in the past three seasons.
MILWAUKEE — Gregg Alexander has been impressed with the play of Illinois State basketball teammates Greg Dilligard, Lorenzo Gordon, Ronnie Carlwell and Neil Plank.
‘The improvement of our post players has been tremendous,’ said Alexander, a senior tri-captain. ‘We know we can throw the ball in there and they will snatch it up.
‘They post hard and work to get the ball. That gives the guards confidence to throw the ball in the post. And they’re good at making the pass out of the post. That gets us moving the ball and opens up our offense.’
Post play very well could be the deciding factor in today’s 5:30 p.m. season opener for both ISU and Penn State in the Black Coaches Association Classic, hosted by Marquette, at the Bradley Center.
‘They are kind of like us up front,’ said Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, who begins his second season at the helm. ‘We are both young with some question marks.’
How bad were things last year for Ed DeChellis and the Penn State Nittany Lions? Very bad. The Nittany Lions finished the 2003-2004 campaign with a 9-19 record overall, 3-13 in the conference. Not all of this can be put at the feet of DeChellis because he was left a program in disarray by Jerry Dunn. DeChellis only has three players on this year’s roster left over the Dunn era at Penn State, but he would give anything for another Crispin brother to miraculously appear in Happy Valley.
DeChellis will have to replace three starters from last year’s team, including seven footer Jan Jagla, who left the Penn State to pursue a career in professional basketball in Germany. The key returnees for DeChellis are both of his starting guards and forward Aaron Johnson. The Nittany Lion attack will surround these three players, but especially guards Marlon Smith and Ben Luber.
Go ahead, ask Ed DeChellis about his team captains for this season. You’ll get a puzzle, not an answer.
“Whew,” the Penn State basketball coach said. “I don’t know.”
Though DeChellis sounded uncertain, he also sounded unconcerned. Leaders? Sure, those will come, so long as the team environment promotes it. Last year, that didn’t happen. But now, DeChellis, in his second year, believes the Lions have drastically improved their team chemistry.
“It is a completely different atmosphere than it was a year ago,” DeChellis said. “The locker room is such a better place to be.”
The person most likely to have the greatest impact on Penn State’s fortunes this season:
Ed DeChellis admits, with a hint of resignation, that Penn State still isn’t the team he’d like it to be. Better than last year?
Certainly. But it still carries a little too much of its traditional image as a Big Ten pushover.
That’s why DeChellis’s job is so important. Within the next two or three years — through recruiting and gradual improvement — he’d like to turn the Lions’ into a more prominent basketball force. But it will take patience — from players, from the administration, even from fans.
Ed DeChellis felt more like a caretaker than a coach during his first season at Penn State.
“Last year, we weren’t really coaching,” DeChellis said. “We were just managing what we had.”
From former coach Jerry Dunn, who was dismissed after a seven-win season in 2002-03, DeChellis inherited a group of inexperienced players and a few malcontents.
There were only two scholarship guards, both true freshmen. The big man was a gangly German who preferred shooting clunkers from beyond the arc to mixing it up under the basket.
By the end of the season, a couple of unhappy veterans had departed, the big man was openly courting scouts from European leagues, and a walk-on with a surgically repaired eye was the team’s most exciting player.
“In the long term, all that (turmoil) probably was a good thing,” DeChellis said. “Because we found out who wants to be here.”
If Marlon Smith and Ben Luber looked a little tired at the end of last year, if their jump shots didn’t have quite the arc, or their drop-step wasn’t quite as quick, they had a good excuse. Smith spent less than 80 seconds of each game on the bench last year; Luber, less than a minute.
A rash of midseason departures and a shortage of available bodies left Penn State unable to run the up-tempo offense favored by coach Ed DeChellis. But a deep recruiting class has gone a long way toward fixing that problem
“We’re way more athletic than we’ve ever been before. I’m more athletic than I’ve ever been before,” forward Aaron Johnson said. “We’re way faster. We’re way stronger. I just think it’s going to be a different team you’re looking at this year.”