Penn State basketball: Nittany Lions host No. 4 Michigan on senior night

acarter@centredaily.comFebruary 27, 2013 

— A few years from now, employers may need to forgive Nick Colella if he dives headlong into a crowd of children while teaching a physical education class.

The senior has created and cultivated a college career out of such wanton disregard for his body.

“I’m going to miss it a lot,” Colella said. “To be honest, diving on the floor gets me going. I love diving from behind, knocking the ball out of bounds and hearing the crowd go crazy. That’s going to be something I miss a lot.”

When Penn State hosts No. 4 Michigan on Wednesday, Colella and fellow senior Sasa Borovnjak will be celebrated on senior night. The 6:30 p.m. tipoff will be televised on the Big Ten Network but won’t be the duo’s final home game.

The Nittany Lions will host Wisconsin on March 10 to wrap up the conference regular season.

Colella is a 6-foot-3 kinesiology major who wants to become a physical education teacher and possibly a basketball coach. Borovnjak, a 6-foot-9 forward from Serbia, plans to return home and pursue professional basketball in Europe.

The duo became close early in their careers when neither could travel with the team in 2010. Borovnjak rehabbed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, while Colella, a walk-on, wasn’t permitted to travel with the team.

“We did everything together,” Colella said. “I took him home for a couple of holidays. He’s not only close with me, but with my mom and dad, also.”

If the Nittany Lions want to stick close with the Wolverines as they did 10 days ago, the two seniors could be key. Both have excelled recently in areas where they previously struggled.

Colella accrued nine points, six rebounds and four assists (the best stat line of his career), while Borovnjak scored a career-high 17 points in the Lions 79-71 loss in Ann Arbor.

“I’ve been letting the game come to me and things are starting to slow down a lot for me,” Colella said after the loss. “I’m actually starting to read the defense instead of just going out there and playing.”

Borovnjak has been the team’s most reliable threat over the last three games. He is averaging 16 points, while shooting 74 percent from the field during the stretch.

Last week, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers attributed Borovnjak’s success with more hard work and attention to detail.

“I think I realized after Christmas that ‘wow, I only have half the season left,’” Borovnjak said. “It kind of triggered in my head and helped me push myself harder because I know there’s only a couple games left and I want to give everything I can for this team.”

Penn State (8-18, 0-14 Big Ten) is still searching for its first conference win but has been competitive of late. They have lost the last three games by an average of five points.

After going the majority of conference play with D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall shouldering the offensive load, Patrick Chambers has gotten quality production from his role players.

However, against Illinois only five Lions scored. A similar output tonight could mean trouble against No. 4 Michigan (23-4, 10-4 Big Ten).

The Wolverines, a team led mostly by underclassmen, can get away with getting points from a select few. In fact, Trey Burke (29), Glenn Robinson III (21), Tim Hardaway Jr. (8) and Nik Stauskas (18) scored 76 of the team’s 79 points against Penn State.

Burke’s 29 was a season-high. He also managed three rebounds, five assists and two steals — all in 39 minutes of play without a single turnover.

“Man, he’s so good,” Chambers said of Burke, a former Penn State commit. “He’s really good. He’s a tough matchup because he’s quick and we have trouble with quick guards.”

The sophomore from Columbus, Ohio is tied atop the conference rankings with Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas at 19.9 points per game in Big Ten play. He also averages a league-best 6.5 assists per game (Newbill is tied for second with two others at 4.1 per game).

“We have to play great team defense,” Chambers said. “We have to do the best job we can by slowing him down, which I don’t think anybody’s done all year long.”

For Penn State’s two seniors, the conclusion of this long year is nearing and when it arrives their careers will end. But when you talk to those who know them best there is a sense that the pair might leave something behind.

“Their work ethic,” Chambers said. “Lunch-pale mentality. Obviously, Nick, we all know his story. That kid is going to be super successful. But Sasa over the last month … the light has come on.”

Colella began his career at Division III Penn State Behrend, before transferring to University Park where he became a practice player with the Lady Lions. In 2010, he made the Nittany Lions’ roster as a redshirt and then earned significant playing time the following season.

Chambers gave Colella a scholarship for the spring 2012 semester; rather, as the coach would quickly point out, Colella earned a scholarship for the spring 2012 semester.

“He changed my life,” Colella said of Chambers. “I can’t thank him enough. I’m very appreciative of it. It’s really helped out my family financially. It’s ... it’s ... you know ... I’m still speechless about it.”

In December the team announced Borovnjak would make this his final season with the team. He plans to graduate in May with a degree in marketing.

His departure will free a scholarship for Tim Frazier, who missed the majority of this season with an Achilles tendon injury. Frazier can apply for a medical hardship waiver at season’s end, which could grant him another year of eligibility.

But for Borovnjak it was just time. It hasn’t been easy for him to be away from his family.

“Yeah it’s really hard,” Borovnjak said. “I try to talk to them almost everyday on Skype … that’s all I can do … I just (want to) move back closer, at least closer to them somewhere in Europe.”

“I think I made the right decision because I’m graduating and I want to move on to the next stage in my life.”

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