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December 10, 2013

Analysis: Scoring shifts allowing Lions to thrive

Twelve times through the course of Penn State's 2012-13 men's basketball season, the Nittany Lions' leading scorer was the same as it had been the last game out.

Leading the team in scoring in each of his three games before going down to a blown Achilles, senior point guard Tim Frazier set the standard before making way for the likes of D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, each of whom led the team in scoring for all but two of the team's remaining 24 games.

For head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lions this season, times have changed.

Though Newbill and Frazier are still pouring it in, earning the Nos. 1 and 3 spots in the Big Ten for scoring average this season at 19.1 and 18.6 points per game, respectively, nearly every game out has seen a different leading scorer for the 7-3 Nittany Lions. With Donovon Jack, Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis all contributing with high scores once each through the team's first 10 games, the match-up problems that have tormented opposing coaches this season have been especially evident.

Crediting the team's point guards for the Big Ten's No. 4 ranking in assists, Travis said the extra attention drawn their way enables the guards to find complementary players that are now ready and able to knock down shots.

"I'd say this team is unique in a way from the last two years. We have scorers on the bench that are coming in and lifting that energy when they get in," he said. "The scoring is distributed throughout the team. We can have a different leading scorer each game."

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Chambers acknowledged that he wants more from his bench, even though he's admittedly gushing by the very possibility of having options that go eight, nine and potentially 10 players deep on the bench.

But, even with Newbill and Frazier's big scoring numbers, the 11.5 and 11.4 points per game scored by Travis and Taylor, respectively, have gone a long way toward making the Nittany Lions the conference's No. 4-ranked scoring offense this season. As opposed to last year's No. 10 output of 61.6 points per game as a team, the more than 20 points per game scored this season (81.7) represents an even quicker evolution than Newbill admitted he'd expected.

"We had a lot of time. We were practicing in the summertime, so we got kind of a head start. Then we had that European tour and we came back and started practice two weeks earlier than a year ago, so I think we had a lot of time to get it together. But, I wouldn't have expected it to be as well as it's been. It's kind of surprising," Newbill said. "It's fun out there. Everyone is contributing.

"Last game we had five guys in double-figures scoring. When you've got weapons like that, it makes the game a lot easier."

While Frazier was forced to sit out for the majority of the last season, the combination of scoring threats on this year's team might just have the most impact on him. Instead of trading high scores for assists though, Frazier has simply added impeccable dish numbers to go with his already prolific scoring output.

Leading the Big Ten in assists at 7.2 per game, Penn State's fifth-year senior is also No. 1 in the country for total assists with 72 this season, and said that he's more than happy to get into the paint, pass to teammates and let them knock down shots. As long as a 'W' gets planted next to his team's name at the end of the game, he's happy.

"I don't think it's a different feeling at all," Frazier said. "I've always said I'm going to do whatever it takes to win. Sometimes it's assists, sometimes it's rebounds, steals and just getting stops.

"Whatever it is, as long as we get the W at the end, I feel like the emotion afterwards is always the same, regardless of what it is."

According to Travis, at least through the team's first 10 games, that feeling has been a pleasant one.

Rejecting the notion of winning being a relief compared to the past two seasons of somewhat demoralizing losing, travis said that he and his teammates have worked hard for their early season accomplishments and plan to input just as much effort into the days and weeks to come to make sure the success continues.

"We haven't had the greatest past two years, so I wouldn't even say it's much of a relief to start winning. We've worked and we got a whole new squad this year. Everybody is buying in, so I think we deserve the work that we're putting in," Travis said. "We're definitely not satisfied with any of this, we're still humble and hungry, but we're still going to put in the work and we've got a long way to go."


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