ATLANTA - Gani Lawal quickly broke into the Georgia Tech starting lineup as a freshman, but his production wasn't what you'd expect from such a high-profile recruit.
This season, though, the former Norcross standout is looking every bit like a former McDonald's All-American.
No one in the ACC has seen his numbers increase as much, with Lawal one of the leaders in scoring and rebounding.
The 6-foot-9 power forward scored a career-best 34 points, but it wasn't quite enough as Penn State edged Georgia Tech 85-83 on Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Lawal got the Yellow Jackets to within a basket of the Nittany Lions with back-to-back dunks, but freshman Iman Shumpert was off on a long 3-point try at the buzzer after Penn State missed a pair of free throws with 5.4 seconds left.
The loss was the first of the season for Georgia Tech after four victories, while Penn State improved to 7-1.
"A tough, tough loss," Lawal said.
The sophomore did all he could to avoid it, scoring 22 points in the second half. Georgia Tech trailed by 10 points early in the game and was down by 11 with 6:23 left before rallying.
"He killed us inside," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said of Lawal. "We had no answers for him."
Lawal, who grabbed 10 rebounds, was 15-for-20 from the floor and 4-for-5 at the foul line.
Last season, Lawal averaged 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. This season, he is averaging 22.2 points and 11.2 rebounds.
"Just a lot of hard work," Lawal said when asked the reason for his turnaround.
One look at Lawal and the increased muscle in his arms and legs is obvious. But he has also made improvement in the mental side of the game.
"He's not trying to do too much and is letting the game come to him," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "He's shown the maturity you want to see."
Lawal has a double-double in all but one game, grabbing nine rebounds to go with his 27 points at Mercer.
"I just tried to go out there and dominate," Lawal said of his effort against Penn State.
With its backcourt depleted by an injury to D'Andre Bell and the ineligibility of Lewis Clinch, Georgia Tech is dependent on its front court. Lawal, Alade Aminu and Zach Peacock combined for 54 points and 24 rebounds against Penn State, but the Yellow Jackets were done in by 3-point shooting.
The Nittany Lions were 8-for-19 from behind the arc, while Georgia Tech was 3-for-16.
"We fell asleep defensively a couple of times and it cost us," Hewitt said. "It is a tough way to lose a game. We were pretty efficient offensively, but not defensively."
"When we lost a shooter, he didn't miss," Lawal said.