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December 18, 2011A week of final exams, the distractions of an upcoming Christmas holiday, and lackluster atmosphere at a sleepy Bryce Jordan Center were all working against the Penn State men's basketball team on Sunday afternoon.
Leading Mount St. Mary's, 28-25, at the half behind a paltry 34.6 percent clip from the floor, new head coach Patrick Chambers went to the locker room with the hopes of igniting a spark from his inexperienced young squad.
"He just told us that it wasn't over," senior guard Cam Woodyard said. "We've got 20 more minutes to play hard, come out and play Penn State basketball. Stick to our habits, that's what he really stressed. Stick to our habits and get after it on defense."
The Nittany Lions did exactly that.
Behind an improved shooting effort (66.7 percent), Penn State (7-5 overall) picked up its defensive intensity and cruised to a 72-43 victory against the Mountaineers (1-9).
Opening the second half on a 9-0 run and knocking down 11 of their first 13 shots, the Lions utilized six second-half steals and 11 second-half turnovers by the Mountaineers to take control and not let up.
When asked whether or not an improved offensive success helped pick up his team's defense, Chambers was hesitant to admit that it probably did.
"You hate to admit it, but probably," he said afterward. "I try to teach them it doesn't matter whether you're making or missing shots, it shouldn't dictate your effort. We try to work on that every single day. I tried to get them to fight through that the last five or six minutes of the first half.
"But yeah, we started making some shots. We took Tim off the ball and he did some good things. They didn't know where he was going to go or where he was going to come out. There were a lot of positives, but we didn't take Mount St. Mary's lightly. We know what happened last year. We know how hard they've been playing. We know what they did against Maryland, they played a great game against them, so, it was nice to see us come out and play hard that second half."
Woodyard, one of a season-high five Nittany Lions to score in double-figures with a career-high 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting, actually felt his team's defense helped spark the offense.
Said Woodyard after the game, "I think playing our defense. We got some easy buckets in transition. Guys see the ball go through the hole, it picked up their confidence, coach told us to keep shooting and I felt like the defense helped get our offense going."
Senior guard Tim Frazier led the squad with 15 points and eight assists, followed by Woodyard, senior forward Billy Oliver (career-high 13 points, 3 blocks), and Jermaine Marshall and Sasa Borovnjak with 10 points a piece.
Noting the challenges facing his young squad with its non-basketball friends home for winter break, Chambers acknowledged he was pleased with the effort and win after the game while looking ahead to Wednesday night's non-conference home finale against Cornell.
"This is one of the toughest games of the year after exams and before Christmas," he said. "Cornell is going to be the same great challenge. Everyone is thinking about going home, what presents you need to buy, how you're going to get home, when you're going to get home and things like that. I'm trying to keep them here and focused."
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