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March 17, 2011

Fernandez sinks Lions on last-second shot

TUCSON, Ariz. - Down 64-61 to Temple with 27 seconds left and the ball, Penn State knew who would take its game-tying shot. Everyone at the McKale Center knew who would take it.

Those who had watched the Nittany Lions play the past four seasons, they also knew who would make it.

Talor Battle's legend as a Nittany Lion one final time on Thursday afternoon, nailing a 26-foot 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to play to tie it at 64. The shot gave him his 2,213th point for his career, and easily ranks among his most memorable.

In fact, the shot, Battle's fifth 3-pointer of the afternoon, left TNT color man Reggie Miller clapping.

Unfortunately for Battle and Penn State, Owls' guard Juan Fernandez managed to one-up the shot, nailing a flat-footed 10-footer with just 0.4 seconds remaining to send 7th-seed Temple to a 66-64 win over the No. 10-seed Nittany Lions.

Having given everything he has, Battle said he wouldn't reflect on his collegiate career's end negatively.

"It's horrible, but at the same time, you can't hate Temple," he said. "They deserve to get where they've gotten. I have the utmost respect for those guys. It's just a poor feeling.

"But, it's the same thing I said to the guys after the Ohio State game, 'Someone has to lose.' Unfortunately, it's us."



On the biggest stage of his career, Battle said there was never any doubt he would take the shot to even it up.

"No, heck no. I was going to shoot it from half court if I had to," he said. "I just kept backing up to wherever I was open, and I swear, I was open. I could care less where I was at.

"I can live with it if I missed the shot, walking out of here with my head high, but I think that's half the reason why I hit all of those crazy shots, because I believed. I had the ultimate confidence that I was going to make it.

"Even when I shot it, it was just so far and took forever to go in, but I was like, 'That's going in.' No one else knew. I looked to my left and I see Reggie Miller going crazy. That's the best shooter in the world, so that was just a great feeling."

It was short lived.

Coming out of a timeout, tied 64-64, Temple put the ball in the hands of Fernandez, who shot out to score 17 points in the first half, but fell silent in the second. Guarded by Penn State sophomore guard Tim Frazier, Fernandez picked up his dribble and quickly ran out of options.

Seeing no one to pass to, with the clock winding down, he stepped forward and threw a flat shot at the basket.

"I felt like I did a great job," Frazier said afterward. "He tried to take me off the dribble, which he hadn't done before the whole game. I actually made him pick the ball up. He had the ball, he's looking at the clock, looking for other people. I made him pivot a couple of times and he just realized at the last second he had to get a shot up. He stepped through, kind of leaned in. Tough shot and he made it."

Fernandez took and made the big shot, but Ramone Moore changed the complexion of the game. Tying Fernandez and Battle with a game-high 23 points, Moore scored 17 points in the second half, including a run of 9 straight points for the Owls.

Three times down the stretch, Moore broke ties or Owl deficits with clutch shots, ultimately putting the Owls ahead 62-61 with just 1:10 left to play to set up the game's final thrilling minute.

Of course, for the Lions to even be in a position to force overtime took one of the guttiest team performances of the season.

Senior forward Jeff Brooks, the Lions' second-leading scorer and a incredibly dangerous offensive threat, played just 9 first-half minutes after picking up his second foul on a sloppy hack to Fernandez's arm.

Jumping out to a 20-11 lead in the game's first 7 minutes, 59 seconds, Brooks' absence helped the Owls erase Penn State's lead, eventually taking a 30-29 lead of their own at the 3:22 mark on a Fernandez 3-pointer.

Making matters much, much worse, only 1 minute 7 seconds into the second half, Brooks was lost again, this time for the game and season. Looking to help Drew Jones defensively, Brooks swatted away Lavoy Allen's jumpshot, but quickly fell to the ground and called for Penn State trainer Jon Salazer.

"I blocked it, but I blocked it with my forearm and my hand got caught on the backboard and jerked my arm out of its socket," Brooks said. More than a month after dislocating his right shoulder at Illinois, Brooks had done it again, this time knocking him out of the game as the Lions trailed 36-33.

"I was disappointed, not at the point where I got injured because I felt like I'm getting back in this game, whatever it takes, but I felt disappointed when they said I wouldn't be able to play and my strength wasn't where it needed to be to get back in," Brooks continued. "It was tough, but the only thing I could do is go back out there and tell those guys to continue to play hard, continue to give effort, continue to have fun. That's what they did. We just lost a tough game."

Stepping up in Brooks' absence, senior David Jackson found his offensive rhythm, scoring 10 of his 14 points on 4 for 6 shooting in the second half.

A group of four seniors who had been through it all refused to let the loss spoil the accomplishments of his team.

"When you get somewhere here like this, when you get to the Tournament, after all of the things you've been through... Last year, we lose 13 in a row, then we lose two starters due to transferring, and now we're here," Battle said. "All of those things just show how hard we work, how much we gelled, how much we enjoyed being with each other, and that's more important than anything.

"Everybody will remember all of the shots I hit, all of the plays we made, but I'll remember the guys I played with through the years. That's the coolest part to me."

Notes:

- In the second half, the score tied three times and saw 12 lead changes.

- Fernandez set his season-high in scoring with 23 points.

- The Owls' big inside threat, Lavoy Allen, finished the game with just 3 points.

- Battle connected on 5 of 11 3-pointers, giving him 317 to finish second for his Penn State career.

- Drew Jones finished 12th on Penn State's career rebounding list with 681 rebounds. He finished Thursday's game with 8 boards.



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