UNIVERSITY PARK - If Penn State's recent three-game losing streak in the Big Ten didn't kill the Nittany Lions' NCAA Tournament hopes, it certainly put them on life support.
And Penn State played like it Saturday.
The Lions' overall urgency and execution - a combination lacking since PSU went into Michigan State and emerged with a stunning win on Super Bowl Sunday - resulted in a seesaw 68-63 victory over Minnesota before 12,148 at the Jordan Center.
It stopped the bleeding, pushed the overall record to 18-8 (7-6 in the Big Ten) and at least allowed the Nits to look at the remainder of the season with a measure of confidence.
Facing the only home date of a four-game stretch, Ed DeChellis knew beating the Gophers was a must.
"You don't tell the kids that - they don't need that pressure - but it was if we want to get where we want to go," he said afterward.
And that's to the Big Dance for the first time in DeChellis' six-year tenure.
"The kids don't live in a cave," he said. "They know where we are."
No one knows better - or acted like it - than sophomore guard Talor Battle, who shook off a three-game slump to dominate the Gophers when it mattered most. Battle buried a monster 3-pointer to close the first half, then, after the Nits squandered what seemed to be comfortable lead, Battle scored 10 of the Lions' next 12 points to turn a 53-50 deficit into a victory over a team that beat them by 20 earlier this season.
"We had a chip on our shoulder," Battle said.
Battle and backcourt mate Stanley Pringle played well enough to offset a subpar performance from Jamelle Cornley (six points, five rebounds, five turnovers), who was hounded by the Gophers.
"He didn't play his normal game," DeChellis said, "and it's positive when you can win without one of those three guys [Battle, Pringle, Cornley] playing well."
Credit the contributions of freshman guards Chris Babb and Cammeron Woodyard, who came off the bench to score 15 points.
"They did things they hadn't done in a few games," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "You knew when they went to Michigan State and won they're for real, and this is a testament to how balanced this league is."
The Lions have five regular-season games left - at Illinois Wednesday, at Ohio State, home games with Indiana and the Illini and a trip to Iowa. They're capable of beating everybody they have left, and everybody's capable, perhaps except Indiana here, of beating them.
A strong finish, along with a decent showing in the Big Ten tourney, could make Selection Sunday meaningful in Happy Valley for the first time since the Brothers Crispin in 2001.
DeChellis can't afford to look quite that far ahead.
After his team was squashed at Purdue Wednesday, DeChellis gave the Lions Thursday off and arrived at Friday's practice in a foul mood.
"The staff was miserable, and they [players] were miserable," DeChellis said. "It's good to see them with smiles on their faces."
It will be even better if those smiles can last into March.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.