BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – No. 11 Indiana dealt with Penn State's tough defense the only way it knew how — with a strong second half.
After a poor-shooting first half, the Hoosiers clamped down on defense in the second and shot 65 percent from the field to rally for a 73-54 victory Sunday.
"Penn State plays as hard as anyone we'll face and as hard as anybody in the country will face," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "We knew that we would have to be at a high, high level of toughness, a high level of energy and a high level of getting to the floor first because that's what they do."
They also had to play at an emotionally high level to match the Nittany Lions, who learned of former football coach Joe Paterno's death on their way to the game.
Indiana held a moment of silence in honor of Paterno just before tipoff, some time that clearly had the Nittany Lions thinking about more than basketball.
Coach Patrick Chambers bowed his head in deep thought and some players tugged at the black ribbons on their blue road jerseys as they reflected on the impact that Paterno had on their university. He won an NCAA-record 409 games before getting fired in November after child sex-abuse charges were filed against Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator. A few days after the firing, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer.
"It's very sad on a variety of levels. Our heart goes out to his family and the entire Penn State community," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said before the game.
But the Hoosiers (16-4, 4-4) still had a job to do, and the game lived up to Crean's expectations.
The teams combined for 48 fouls, attempted 46 free throws, grabbed 61 rebounds and delivered two intense defensive efforts. Indiana's counterpunch just happened to be better than Penn State's first one.
Freshman Cody Zeller led Indiana with 18 points, and Jordan Hulls scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Christian Watford's final two free throws gave him 11 points and seven rebounds as the Hoosiers snapped a three-game losing streak.
"The Big Ten is a physical league, and that's just how they play," Zeller said.
And on Sunday, there was even more at stake for Penn State with Chambers paying tribute to one of the program's biggest fans.
"He loved basketball. He would always tell me a story about how he covered (Hall of Famer Bob) Cousy," Chambers said wistfully as he spoke about Paterno. "He just wanted basketball to be successful, really wanted to give us what we needed to be able to compete in the Big Ten on a daily basis — in recruiting, in games, facilities, any amenities — he was all for it. I know that hasn't been the perception, but that's not true."
Whatever Paterno did behind the scenes seemed to be working.
Last season, the Nittany Lions made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2000-01.
Chambers took over this season and got his first win over a ranked team on Thursday when Tim Frazier scored with 8 seconds left to beat No. 22 Illinois. On Sunday, the Nittany Lions were trying to win their third straight game at Assembly Hall after going 0-15 there all-time.
Sunday's jarring news came on the heels of a Saturday night spent praying and dealing with false reports about Paterno's condition.
"Joe Paterno meant so much to this university, you know," said Frazier, who scored 21 points. "We wore ribbons for him today. It's a very tough situation."
The Nittany Lions (10-11, 2-6 Big Ten) limited Indiana's high-scoring offense to only 27 points and 40.9 percent shooting in the first half. They were still within nine points with 8:13 to go despite shooting 23 percent (5 of 22) in the second half.
The Nittany Lions used a 9-3 run to go up 13-10 and held the lead for most of the half.
But Indiana tied the score on a tip-in by Zeller on the opening possession of the second half, then took the lead when Verdell Jones scored on a layup after a Penn State turnover. That gave Indiana a 31-29 lead that it never relinquished.
Indiana followed with two straight 3-pointers from Watford and a third from Hulls to make it 40-35, and when Sheehey scored on a layup and Matt Roth hit a 3 with 13:04 left, the Hoosiers led 45-35.
Penn Sate, which got 11 points from Nick Colella, never seriously threatened again and lost for the fourth time in five games.
"It's a tough league and there's some tough players in this league so for us to be able to go toe-to-toe, that's going to prepare us for the future," Indiana's Victor Oladipo said. "We have to learn from this win, just like we learn from our losses."