Penn State raises charity funds with Lift For Life

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Penn State raises charity funds with Lift For Life

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With some bragging rights between offense and defense on the line, Friday evening in Happy Valley provided both a dose of actual competition and jovial camaraderie.

The Penn State football team -- almost three months removed from its annual spring game -- put on a show once again for loyal fans at the university's lacrosse fields.

No, not in Beaver Stadium, and this had a desired outcome more important than a final score.

The 11th annual Lift For Life -- an event dedicated to raising money for kidney cancer research -- was once again a success for the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes, an organization driven by college football players to raise awareness and funding for rare diseases.

“There’s a lot of people who everyday hear, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you,’ and someone needs to try to make a change with things like that,” Adam Gress, vice president of Penn State’s Uplifting Athletes chapter, said.

The Penn State defense beat the offense, 220-152, in a collection of events such as sand barrel races and Tug-of-War.

And even though the defensive side came out victorious, the group of 80-plus players united for an event that culminated yearlong fundraising efforts.

The final total raised should be released early next week, but going into the event the team already broke personal records.

Heading into Friday’s activities, the team total was a record-high $113,000, according to Penn State Uplifting Athletes president Eric Shrive.

Shrive, whose uncle has battled kidney cancer for the last couple of years, said his personal goal of $31,000 -- to cap out at $100,000 over his five-year tenure -- was surpassed by more than $10,000 to date.

Shrive said he’s been motivated by how rare diseases have affected his family and others.

“Sometimes they don’t find [kidney cancer] because it’s not a prominent disease. It’s not a prominent cancer. The funding’s not there. When they do find it, sometimes it’s too late,” Shrive said.

The event also marked another step for Uplifting Athletes, which has extended its reach to 21 campuses across the country and is represented by at least one school in each BCS conference.

Scott Shirley, executive director of Uplifting Athletes and a founder of the organization while playing for Penn State in 2003, said he hopes college football and helping rare diseases will one day become synonymous.

Shirley also said events like the Jack Hoffman-Nebraska touchdown run will help build recognition for Uplifting Athletes.

But when addressing the crowd on hand for Lift For Life, Shirley harped on the “exponential” development of the organization and his appreciation for its growing supporters.

“I can’t say enough about this team and the fact that every year this gets bigger and better,” Shirley said. “You guys blew me away.”

And with the one-year anniversary of the Freeh Report on Saturday, Shrive was asked about how this event goes along with the image of the football program. The offensive lineman was sincere, but direct, in rebutting those wanting to challenge the “culture” of Penn State football.

“Anytime people want to challenge the culture here at Penn State, they can look at the history of Lift For Life,” Shrive said. “Go find me another college football program that’s [raising this kind of money] while graduating 90 percent of their players ­-- one of the top graduation rates in the country -- along with winning games every year.”

Jalen Brunson 'plays like a Philly guard' in helping No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle

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Jalen Brunson 'plays like a Philly guard' in helping No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle

BOX SCORE

Normally before his team’s first game at the Palestra in a certain year, Jay Wright takes his players on a tour of the storied building.

The goal: To remind them of the history, the importance and the tradition. And also what happens here.

After Tuesday’s game against La Salle, Wright regretted not playing tour guide last week when the Wildcats played Penn.

Turns out he picked the right time to remind sophomore Jalen Brunson what the Palestra is all about and how things never typically go as planned once the ball is in the air.

Brunson, whose dad endured plenty of Big 5 battles while playing at Temple, poured in a career-high 26 points to help No. 1 Villanova fend off a feisty La Salle team, 89-79 (see Instant Replay).

With Kris Jenkins’ shot not falling, and with the Explorers making everything difficult for the Wildcats, Wright, on multiple occasions, had to go to his “ace in the hole.”

“You know, at any point when you need to get a bucket, he can go get one for you,” Wright said. “That’s kind of what we did tonight.”

Brunson scored 14 of his 26 in the second half. He shot 10 for 17 from the floor on the night, including 2 of 3 from deep, and made all four of his attempts from the free throw line.

“Coach always says [to] be aggressive,” Brunson said. “Be ready to catch and shoot, ready to make plays. I was just feeling it tonight. It’s a credit to my teammates for finding me.”

He found them, too.

With La Salle hanging close all game, Villanova used a crucial 9-0 run to finally get some separation. In that stretch, Brunson hit Donte DiVincenzo with a backdoor, alley-oop pass that gave Villanova a 48-42 lead.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Eric Paschall and Jenkins put Villanova ahead by 11, 53-42, with 12:03 to go.

The run came during a five-minute, 23-second La Salle FG drought.

But La Salle, after a 57.1 percent shooting performance had the Explorers down just four at the half, roared back late behind a career-high 27 points from Pookie Powell.

Powell’s layup with 1:55 left got La Salle within five, 75-70. But Brunson responded with a tough finish through traffic.

A three-pointer from La Salle’s Jordan Price made it 77-73 with 1:19 left.

But Villanova was able to connect on two lengthy inbounds passes, one to Mikal Bridges, who scored 16 points on the night, and one to Josh Hart (21 points), to lead to easy points down the other end. And Brunson hit free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.

“A couple breakdowns, a couple things didn’t bounce our way, some missed free throws, and of course [Villanova’s] effort is extraordinary,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “We worked hard but they got a few more loose balls, a few more offensive rebounds and they just deserve credit for being relentless, the way they are all the time.”

The thought, however unlikely it seemed before tip-off, probably lingered in the minds of most inside the Palestra longer than they expected it to.

For long stretches of the game, La Salle had Villanova out of sorts. Wright credited that to La Salle’s talent. Some of it could also just be chalked up to another city series game at the Palestra — of which Villanova has now rattled off 17 consecutive wins.

“We’re not surprised at all,” Wright said. “I think we’re a little surprised we couldn’t guard them better. But we were not surprised at their effort, their talent. … They are as talented one-on-one offensively as we are. We have just played together longer.

“Some nights the other team has a little bit better plan. I think John had a little bit better plan for us than I did for them. Sometimes things just don’t go your way and you have to find a way to grind it out.

“Our veterans here, and I count Jalen as one because he’s an old soul, did a great job down the stretch.”

An old soul who perhaps still benefited from Wright’s tour.

“He plays like a Philly guard,” Wright said. “His dad, even though his dad’s from upstate New York, his dad’s a Philly guy. He knew everything. He’d seen it before.

“That’s valuable for us. It was valuable for us last year in our run, having a freshman that really didn’t think the game like a freshman or play like a freshman.”

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 89, La Salle 79

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Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 89, La Salle 79

BOX SCORE

The thought, however unlikely it seemed before tip-off, probably lingered in the minds of most in the Palestra Tuesday night.

Newly-crowned No. 1 Villanova looked beatable in a “road” game against a cross-city opponent, La Salle.

A streak of 16 consecutive city series wins was on the line. And surely that No. 1 ranking would disappear next week with a loss.

But like many of the 16 previous games, Villanova finally wore down its opponent. At least enough to hold on for a win.

Behind a career-high 26 points from Jalen Brunson, 21 from Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges’ 16, Villanova earned an 89-79 win over an Explorers team that quite simply refused to go away.

La Salle, which trailed just 40-36 at halftime, got a career-high 27 from Pookie Powell, who made three three-pointers to keep the Explorers close.

Powell’s layup with 1:55 left got La Salle within five, 75-70. But Brunson responded with a tough finish through traffic.

A three-pointer from La Salle’s Jordan Price made it 77-73 with 1:19 left.

But Villanova was able to connect on two lengthy inbounds passes, one to Bridges and one to Hart, to lead to easy points down the other end to help preserve a win.

Turning point
In a game that needed one to determine a winner, Villanova used a 9-0 run (which started with the Wildcats up, 44-42) in less than 2½ minutes early in the second half to finally create some separation. Separation the Wildcats would need down the stretch.

In the middle of the run, Brunson hit Donte DiVincenzo with a backdoor, alley-oop pass that gave Villanova a 48-42 lead.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Eric Paschall and Kris Jenkins put Villanova ahead by 11, 53-42, with 12:03 to go and the Wildcats never looked back. Their lead never shrunk below four the rest of the night.

The run came during a five-minute, 23-second La Salle FG drought.

Inside the box score
• La Salle shot 57.1 percent (16 for 28) from the floor in the first half to keep the game close in what was one of Villanova’s worst defensive halfs of the young season.

• Villanova entered Tuesday’s game with 117 assists on 222 makes (53 percent) this year. In Tuesday’s first half, Villanova got just five assists on 16 makes from the floor. The Wildcats got their offensive rhythm going in the second half, recording 10 assists on 18 made baskets.

• Price (18.5 ppg entering Tuesday) was held to single digits (nine points) for just the fourth time over the last two seasons.

• Paschall tied a season high with seven rebounds. 

• Villanova won the turnover battle, 11-6, and shot 13 for 16 from the free throw line.

History
In the 66th meeting between the Philly schools, Villanova improved its record to 39-27 all-time against La Salle. 

Jay Wright now owns a 14-2 record against the Explorers.

In Palestra history: Villanova became the first No. 1 team to play at the Palestra since North Carolina defeated Penn, 106-71, Dec. 4, 2007.

Up next
Villanova has off until Saturday, when the Wildcats travel to Newark, New Jersey, to take on No. 23 Notre Dame at noon.

The Explorers play Saturday (2 p.m.) in Miami against Georgetown at the Hoophall Miami Invitational.