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March 31, 2009A couple of football of schools will take their rivalry to the hardwood Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden when Notre Dame (21-14) plays Penn State (25-11) in semi-final action of the National Invitation Tournament.
The winner takes on the victor of the Baylor (23-14)-San Diego State (26-9) game at 7:00 p.m. EST. The Irish and Nittany Lions are scheduled to tip off at 9:30 p.m. EST.
Notre Dame advanced to the Final Four of the NIT with home victories over UAB, New Mexico and Kentucky while the Nittany Lions defeated George Mason (77-73) and Rhode Island (83-72) at home before knocking off Florida (71-62) on the road.
Coached by Ed DeChellis in his sixth year at his alma mater, the Nittany Lions have shown the ability to win big games on the road-beyond last week's victory at Florida. On Feb. 1, Penn State beat Final Four participant Michigan State in East Lansing.
Penn State has a senior-sophomore dominated lineup with several players capable of lighting it up from beyond the arc. The Nittany Lions made 8-of-18 three-pointers in the victory over Rhode Island and 11-of-24 against George Mason.
Talor Battle, a 5-foot-11 sophomore recruited by Notre Dame, leads the Penn State offense with a 16.8 average while snagging an incredible 5.3 rebounds per game. He paces the Nittany Lions in three-pointers (90) while dishing out 4.9 assists per game. His 24 points on 5-of-11 shooting from three-point range sparked the NIT opening-round victory over George Mason.
Two seniors-6-foot-5 Jamelle Cornley and 6-foot-1 Stanley Pringle-average double figures. Cornley, at 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, had 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting with 12 rebounds in the victory over Florida. Cornley is shooting .520 from the field but just .533 from the free-throw line.
Pringle, at 12.3 points per game, is second on the team in three-pointers with 71. He scored 19 points in the NIT victory over Rhode Island.
Five other players average about 22 points per game, led by 6-foot-9, 245-pound sophomore Andrew Jones (5.9 ppg., 5.6 rpg.).
The Nittany Lions don't have much scoring consistency beyond the top three, although three usually is enough. Danny Morrissey (5.2 ppg.), a 6-foot-3 senior, has converted 42 three pointers. A pair of sophomores-6-foot-6 David Jackson (4.5 ppg., 3.1 rpg.) and 6-foot-8 Jeff Brooks (3.4 ppg., 3.1 ppg.)-contribute off the bench.
Chris Babb, a 6-foot-5 freshman who usually logs limited minutes, tossed in 11 points in 27 minutes of action against George Mason
Meanwhile, the Irish seniors-Kyle McAlarney, Zach Hillesland, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller-hope to keep the dream alive in Madison Square Garden, which is a rather familiar setting. This will be Hillesland's eighth game at the Garden whereas Penn State will be making its first trip to New York City.
In the long run, that slight edge in familiarity, comfort level, shooting background etc., might be just enough of an edge to propel the Irish to the championship game Thursday night.
But Penn State's three-pronged scoring attack is dangerous. Plus, the Nittany Lions have a decent idea of what to expect from the Irish since assistant coach Lewis Preston was a part of Mike Brey's coaching staff three seasons ago.
This is an evenly matched clash that should go down to the wire. Both teams have seniors at the forefront, and both are capable of ringing up the three-pointers. Penn State is a more consistent rebounding team, which could cost the sometimes backboard-challenged Irish.
The hunch here is that Penn State ends Notre Dame's run.
Pointspread: Notre Dame by 4
Prister's Prediction: Penn State 71, Notre Dame 67
Season record: 26-9 straight up; 12-16 vs. points
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