The Penn State basketball team finished up the non-conference portion of their schedule this season with a victory over Sacred Heart on Tuesday night. The win moves the Nittany Lions to 11-2 on the season, their best start since the 1995-96 season.
The Nittany Lions need to go just 5-13 in Big Ten conference games to obtain a final record over .500 and qualify for the NIT tournament. Further, a .500 or better performance in conference play could put Penn State in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid.
Penn State's success this season can be largely attributed to one player, Talor Battle. Battle is averaging 19.2 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and 5.5 assists per game at this point in the season. His numbers lead the team in each of these three categories, except rebounds where he is the team's second-leading rebounder.
The Penn State basketball program is no stranger to star players putting up big numbers. From Calvin Booth to Joe Crispin to the recently graduated Geary Claxton, Penn State seems to have a big producer around once every five years or so. There is no doubt that Battle is the next in line.
Only a sophomore, Battle struggled with his shooting at the beginning of his freshman season a year ago. But after Claxton went down with an injury, Battle found his shooting touch and led the Nittany Lions to a respectable finish in the Big Ten conference despite missing their best player for the better part of the season.
This season Battle has shown no signs of a sophomore slump and has led his team to one of their most impressive non-conference victories in a long-time when PSU won at Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge earlier in the season.
Battle's supporting cast is largely identical to the supporting cast of the last PSU star, Claxton. But despite not having more impressive stats, Battle possesses a quality that Claxton did not. He could put the PSU program over the top in his tenure at the point guard position.
Battle is a winner. He knows how to win, performs when his team needs it the most, and gets his other teammates to play at their highest level.
He has demonstrated this ability all season long by hitting clutch three-pointers and drawing key fouls on isolated drives to the basket.
The latest example came at the end of the game against Sacred Heart. With 19 seconds remaining and Penn State up only by three and struggling, Battle took his defender to the goal and drew a foul while banking in a floater for a three-point play opportunity. He calmly sank the free throw to seal the victory for his team.
This season, the Big Ten conference is as tough as it has been in several years. But don't expect this Penn State team to back down to anyone. Penn State coach Ed DeChellis and his players have been saying their goal is the Big Ten championship this season.
And while not too many outside the program believe they have a chance at achieving that goal, Battle and his teammates are eager to draw some positive attention towards the program.