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PENN STATE FINALLY EARNS THE LIONS' SHARE OF RESPECT

From Atlantic 10 to Big Ten, Penn State has found the basketball worlds to be quite different. It's taken two years of suffering before a winning feeling could be established in its new league.

Tonight in Madison Square Garden, the Nittany Lions go for their 21st win of the season when they play Canisius in the National Invitation Tournament consolation game.

Penn State (20-11) finished 9-9 in the Big Ten this year, including wins over Michigan and Minnesota and a two-point loss to Indiana. Last year, it was 13-14, 6-12. And 1992-93, its first Big Ten season, was a 7-20, 2-16 disaster. The Lions left for the Big Ten after playing with St. Bonaventure in the A-10 from 1982 to 1991.

Penn State had NCAA Tournament hopes this season after a 12-3 start, but lost seven of its last 11 games to slip back to the NIT. It then beat Miami at home and both Nebraska and Iowa on the road to get to New York.

"I'm really proud of what's been accomplished by these guys," said Penn State coach Bruce Parkhill. "That's especially true of the run we made last week. We were on the road the whole time and I can't imagine a team having a tougher road to get here. The guys responded in two tough places to play and really earned this trip."

The Nittany Lions are expected to be strong again next year despite the graduation loss of All-Big Ten center John Amaechi. Only two of the top eight players are seniors.

"People talk about how a consolation game doesn't matter much, but I know we'll be ready for Canisius," said sophomore guard Dan Earl, who scored 26 points in Monday's loss to Marquette. "We want to end on a good note, especially for our seniors."

"It was disappointing to lose (Monday), but in the big picture I'm happy with what's happened," Parkhill said. "Two years ago, we struggled to win seven games, struggled to beat anybody we played. We've come a long way and this is just the beginning, a great foundation."

This will be the Griffs' first meeting ever with Penn State, and they haven't played a Big Ten school since a 90-61 loss at Michigan State in the 1985-86 season. Canisius is 2-5 all-time against the league (0-4 vs. Michigan State, 1-1 vs. Wisconsin, 1-0 vs. Minnesota).

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is the only league to have an NIT Final Four team the last two years and Canisius will be trying to equal Siena's third-place finish last year. The Saints lost to eventual champion Villanova in the '94 semifinals, 66-59, before dumping Kansas State, 92-79. . . . Canisius forward Darrell Barley's eight rebounds Monday gave him 505 for his career, just the 18th Griff to break the 500 mark. . . . Point guard Javone Moore needs three assists tonight to move into third place on the school's single-season assist chart. Moore has 155 assists this year, two behind Duke Richardson's total of 157 set in 1979-80. The record is Richardson's 215 in 1978-79. . . . Canisius has just a 2-9 record this year in games in which it was playing on one or no days rest, a situation it will be in tonight.

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