March 13, 2011

Column: Battle's legend grows with win

INDIANAPOLIS - Less than an hour after the most important win of his storied college basketball career, Talor Battle wanted to make CBS wait.

The national TV network needed five minutes with the Nittany Lions' star senior guard following his electric 25 point performance on Saturday afternoon against Michigan State. Certainly, it was his opportunity to bask in the glory of his team's virtually assured first appearance in the NCAA Tournament after beating the Spartans, 61-48.

Instead, he requested to give this late-arriving reporter a few minutes for an interview, and to see his mom and brother.

The needs of the network giant won out against his protestations, leaving Battle to conduct the interview on the move, but coming from the under-appreciated overachiever who has never lost an ounce of his humility through four years of incredible personal accomplishment and deeply frustrating losing as a team, Battle's good intentions came as no surprise.

Battle might not want or need to be known as the best basketball player in Penn State's history... at least not at the moment, anyway. He's got bigger things to worry about, namely, how to finish what has been an improbable run through the Big Ten Tournament with a win over No. 1-ranked Ohio State on Sunday.

"My sole purpose is to win the Big Ten Championship," he said. "That feeling would be huge, and then obviously we'd automatically be in (the NCAA Tournament). But, to knock out two things with one would be a great feeling."

Superlatives are inconsequential to this kid. He has every accolade to his name that he could possibly want, and is now the Nittany Lions' all-time career scoring leader - an achievement he was oh-so-happy to put behind him following Friday night's 36-33 second round win against Wisconsin.

As if there was any doubt, Saturday afternoon's performance in the Lions' win against Michigan State brought Battle's greatness squarely back into focus, this time on the national stage he rarely gets, but has always deserved.

Coming off a 6-for-30 shooting slump in the opening two rounds of the Big Ten Tournament, Battle went full-on cliche. Again.

In a span of just 2 minutes 35 seconds early in the second half, Battle connected on four consecutive 3-point attempts, sending a 1-point Penn State advantage quickly into a 9-point Nittany Lions' lead. In a blink, Battle put the ballgame to bed.

With only a small Penn State rooting section to cheer him on, including his mother Denise and brother, Battle glanced their way and revealed his trademark grin. He literally couldn't miss, and had swung a still in-doubt game fully in the Lions' favor in the most critical game of his career.

Few would argue Battle's place among the most athletically gifted or talented players in the country. At his size, he's never belonged with the physical freaks of the game, and the flaws in his game are obvious - his shot and handle are imperfect, among other physical shortcomings.

Yet, the sheer will of Talor Battle is undeniable, elevating his game to a level that coddled stars could only hope to reach. With a last name like his, he was literally born to fight and overcome.

For the past four years, watching from my perch on press row at the Bryce Jordan Center, I've seen Battle work. I watched the game-winning lay-up to beat Illinois. I saw the unbelievable shot to beat George Mason in the opening round of the NIT. Even on television, I watched him light up Michigan State star Kalin Lucas for 29 points on Super Bowl Sunday two years ago.

Having seen him do it all already, Saturday's performance only furthered the always growing legend of Talor Battle.

Now, with his elusive goal of an NCAA Tournament berth nearly fully realized, he'll seek to beat the odds at least one more time on Sunday.

"It's not over yet," he said. "I know everybody keeps talking that maybe we're in, but I'm still so focused about (the championship game). I just still want to win. I'm not satisfied that if we won today, we're in the Tournament. I really want to win tomorrow and I'm going to make sure my guys understand that regardless of if we're in or not, we want to win it."



 

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