Aaron Russell backed-up his coach calling him a top-three outside attacker in the nation and got Penn State back into the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
Russell had a match-high 20 kills as the No. 5 seed Penn State defeated the No. 4 seed Lewis 27-25, 19-25, 25-23, 25-19 in the NCAA Tournament play-in match on Tuesday in Chicago.
Russell, a First-Team All-American selection and the 2014 EIVA Player of the Year, was one of three Penn State players to finish the match with at least 15 kills. All-EIVA opposite Nick Goodell added 18 kills, while Peter Russell, Aaron Russell’s brother, contributed with 15 kills.
Penn State coach Mark Pavlik numerous times throughout the regular season called Russell one of the best players at his position in the nation. In addition, the coach earlier this week said Russell has continuously improved since adjusting to his position change last season from middle attacker to outside attacker.
Penn State in the victory out-hit Lewis .297 to .252, including having more than a .450 attack percentage in the first and fourth games.
Russell also picked up two of Penn State’s three game-winning points. The junior in the first-game overtime had a ace to clinch the victory and with the score 24-23 in the third game had a block to give the Nittany Lions a one-game lead.
Along with his offensive performance, Russell in the victory added four blocks.
Lewis All-American opposite Geoff Powell was held to a team-high 13 kills on a .150 attack percentage in the loss. Outside attacker Eric Fitterr also added 13 kills against Penn State.
With this victory, Penn State advances to play the No. 1 seed Loyola in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday. It also snaps the Nittay Lions’ four-match losing steak in the NCAA Tournament dating back to 2010.
Lewis was making its second NCAA Tournament appearance since receiving the men’s volleyball equivalent of the NCAA death penalty a decade ago for NCAA rule violations. In addition, Flyers received the final at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament — becoming the second non-West Coast school in the tournament’s history get the at-large bid.