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PSU coach’s written challenge fired Lion cagers to NCAA semis

STATE COLLEGE — Coach Elmer Gross made it clear today that he and his Penn State players have been on speaking terms right along, even if they did reach the NCAA semifinals upon his written challenge.

The Nittany Lions, an afterthought choice in the NCAA, astounded the experts last weekend by upsetting Notre Dame, 71-63, at Iowa City and gaining a semifinal clash against La Salle this Saturday at Kansas City.

Gross related the challenge developed last Thursday after his team finished a practice session at the Iowa Field House.

“I was busy answering questions by sports writers and told captain Jack Sherry to put the team through its paces until I was free,” Gross said.

“A few minutes later, Sherry came over and obtained my permission for a fastbreak workout.

“Then I happened to notice the team out of the corner of my eye while talking to the writers. I became embarrassed. My boys were tripping over each other in the fastbreak.

“I excused myself and walked over to the team. I told them I was ashamed of the fastbreak performance.”

After the interview, Gross walked into the locker room where he was greeted by a message scrawled on a blackboard.

The note read: ”To Coach Gross – You have a damn fine team. Signed — The Squad.”

Gross pondered the message and then scribbled on the board: “To the squad — We’ll see. Signed — The Coach.”

The Lions accepted Gross’ challenge by playing a tremendous game against the Irish with center Jesse Arnelle leading the attack with 22 points.

“Arnelle did against Notre Dame exactly what we believed he had been capable of right along,” Gross said. “He’s been flirting with greatness for three years, and he reached his peak against Notre Dame.

“But while Arnelle was terrific, the victory was plainly a team effort. Eight men moved on and off the floor because no five men could have stood the pace. Our boys beat Notre Dame because we wanted to win more than they did.”

Gross believes the secret of the upset over Notre Dame was a meshing of the full-court press and the zone defense.

“The dexterity with which they blended the defense was the key to victory,” Gross said.

La Salle coach Ken Loeffler was an athletic star at Penn State when Gross was a kindergarten tot. Asked how he believed Penn State would fare against La Salle, Gross replied:

“I’ll let the boys answer it — at Kansas City.”

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