With the tip-off for yesterday's game against Temple imminent, Talor Battle, Penn State's all-Big Ten Conference guard, looked up at the small cluster of Nittany Lions fans in the upper reaches of the Liacouras Center and acknowledged them for escaping the central Pennsylvania snow to support his team.
Little did Battle know he was about to get plowed under by Temple's sticky defense, a major reason the Owls (6-2) edged Penn State, 45-42, in a quirky, grind-it-out duel in which there was no shooting foul until midway through the second half.
The Owls' awareness of the kind of damage Battle can cause was heightened when the skinny, 6-foot junior torched Virginia for 28 points Monday. In the second half. He finished the Virginia game with 32, raising his season average to 20.1 points a game.
The decision Temple coach Fran Dunphy had to make was when to attach Ryan Brooks to Battle. Brooks is the Owls' top defender, but he's also their leading scorer.
"There's a side to Ryan Brooks he's still figuring out," Dunphy said. "He's trying to be the best defensive player, knowing he is our best perimeter guy, and then trying to figure out how to be our leading scorer as well. It's not an easy thing to do."
Dunphy waited until the second half to unleash Brooks on Battle after Luiz Guzman, with help from just about anyone close by, held the Penn State guard to two first-half baskets.
Battle finished with one more basket and shot 3 for 15, including 0 for 5 from three-point distance, for eight points. Meanwhile, Brooks scored Temple's final four points during a crazy finish to end with 19.
"Being the leader of this team I have to assume the role of stepping up and guarding their best player," the 6-4 senior from Lower Merion High said after Temple dominated the offensive glass, 17-7. "My teammates and my coaches believe I can step up to that challenge, and I look forward to it every game. Same on the offensive end."
The Owls won even though they shot a miserable 30 percent, indicative of their early-season play. For the most part, Temple has played lockdown defense, but is finding the act of putting the ball in the basket quite a mystery.
"Defense is our strength right now," Dunphy said. "Offensively, we still have a ways to go, but anytime you can get a win against a good basketball team we feel very fortunate."
Fortune was on Temple's side in the final moments. The Owls led, 43-42, when Penn State's Bill Edwards was called for a charge with 14.7 seconds to go. Edwards was driving toward the basket when he collided with Temple freshman Rahlir Jefferson, who stumbled backward.
"I didn't see it," Nittany Lions coach Ed DeChellis said after his team dropped to 5-3. "We were just getting ready to call a time-out and then that happened."
Said Jefferson, "I was just trying to play good D, and I felt him push me."
Asked if he sold the call, Jefferson smiled and added: "No, he's strong. He's definitely stronger than me. He really pushed me."
Anyway, Brooks dropped in a pair of free throws to make it 45-42 with 11.6 seconds to go. On Penn State's final possession, Battle stumbled and slipped and never got off the three-point shot the Nittany Lions needed. It was a fitting end to his frustrating day.