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December 6, 2013

Chambers: 'We're close. I can tell you that.'

Following a disappointing loss at Pitt on Tuesday night, Penn State men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers is far from feeling disparaged.

In fact, the Nittany Lions' third-year head coach thinks his team is closer than ever.

Dropping back-to-back games to Ole Miss (6-1 overall) and Pitt (8-0 overall), Chambers reflected Friday morning on what he and his team have taken from their close losses this season.

"We're close. I can tell you that. We're really close to being 8-1," he said. "A couple possessions here and there, a couple stops, a couple defensive rebounds, being in better position, just little things. A turnover here and there.

"Those little plays we have to clean up and we have to finish games. You're up one at Pitt, you gotta finish the game. You're up seven against Ole Miss in the second half - obviously, time to go, but you still need to methodically get it done."

One of the key hurdles to the Nittany Lions' (6-3 overall) success this season, especially in their most recent losses, has been a combination of suspect foul calls and, maybe as important, Penn State's seeming inability to cope with third and fourth fouls.

Specifically against the Panthers, Brandon Taylor's third foul came near the 16-minute mark while Tim Frazier's occurred just two minutes more into the game.

Taking some issue with the calls themselves - a film review of which shows questionable decisions on each - Chambers said he had no choice but to keep his horses in the game.

"Critical and, watching it over and over, maybe not the right calls," Chambers said. "But, in live speed, you can't fault these guys. They were big and those guys, I still need them in the game. Brandon is a threat and obviously Tim is your do-it-all guy. You gotta let it ride."

Relying on the contributions of a starting five that includes one fifth-year senior in Frazier, plus experienced veterans in Taylor, Ross Travis and D.J. Newbill, plus Donovon Jack and Allen Roberts, Chambers' choices have been limited in the crucial moments of games.

Citing the talented-but-inexperienced host of freshmen like Graham Woodward, Geno Thorpe and Julian Moore as still being too fresh to be expected to come through in the game's biggest situations, Chambers explained his options when starters get into foul trouble.

Said Chambers, "Our freshmen just aren't ready yet, and I don't trust zone enough to play zone, so we have to do a better job of understanding what we need to do, and I need to get the freshmen ready every now and then - which I did do. I mixed it up the last four minutes, we played a little zone, we got a stop - but at the end of the game, you really want to go down with what your foundation.

"The thing I think we're losing is when a guy picks up his third early in the second half, he's gotta keep playing hard, especially if he's going to be out there. And, if he's going to be out there, he's gotta play the Penn State way. If you're not going to do that, I gotta take him out."

One thing that has become clear through the Nittany Lions' first nine games is the level of play that has become increasingly evident from game to game.

On full display Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center, the Nittany Lions battled in hostile conditions and held a lead through much of the game, only falling behind in the game's final minutes.

Thankful to return to the Bryce Jordan Center for Saturday afternoon's matchup against Marshall (4-4 overall), Chambers said his team isn't out of the woods yet.

"We enjoyed New York and Pitt, don't get me wrong, but it's nice to come home and sleep in our own beds, practice in our own gym, being able to shoot in our own arena, the confines of what these guys know and understand," he said. "But, we're playing a very, very, very talented Marshall team. They remind me of the last three teams we played, especially Ole Miss.

"They have talent, they're long, they're athletic, they got a good point guard, they got a bigtime four man. So, another great challenge. That's what we wanted in the non-conference."





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