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February 26, 2014

Inside the Den: Hoops news and notes

The Penn State men's basketball team returns to action Thursday night at the Bryce Jordan Center to take on Ohio State in the first of back-to-back games to close out the home schedule for the 2013-14 season.

A rematch from the Nittany Lions' 71-70 overtime win in Columbus nearly a month ago, Penn State will look to not only earn a season-sweep against the No. 20-ranked Buckeyes, but also, send fifth-year point guard Tim Frazier out with a win on the program's senior night.

To do so, the Nittany Lions have to first wipe the bad taste of a bizarre 80-67 loss at Nebraska last Thursday from their mouths.

In a game that saw the Cornhuskers get to the free throw line for an incredible 48 shots, helped in large part by four technical fouls called against the Nittany Lions, head coach Patrick Chambers remained optimistic Tuesday afternoon about some of the positive aspects from the game.

"To lose the way we did at Nebraska in one of the wildest games I've ever been a part of as a head coach, as an assistant, even as a player... I mean, that was crazy," he said. "That was just crazy… What an incredible home atmosphere though. One of the best, probably in the Big Ten right now. They were yelling at us, spitting at us, cursing at us. It was amazing. Good stuff."

Sensing a palpable change in attitude among his players - exhibiting a chippiness and refusal to lay down that might not have existed under similar circumstances in the past - Chambers said he saw it as another indication of steps that are being taken within the program.

"I like they wanted to fight. Not physically fight, but fight back and not take it and not be treated like that anymore," he said, lamenting his own technical that he hadn't earned. "But we also have to show some self control on the flip side. But the fact that they're not willing to be pushed around and we're not going to take it anymore type of thing, it shows you where we're headed.

"Again, even though it was a loss, I think you saw a different brand of Penn State basketball and a different brand of toughness, and that's what you need in this league. You need it man. This is a man's league. So hopefully we can keep the toughness side of it Thursday night, but make some shots and not get any technicals."

Made shots, of course, being the important missing ingredient in many of the Nittany Lions' losses through the course of the Big Ten season.

Shooting 39.3 percent as a team against conference competition, the Nittany Lions check in at No. 10 in the conference in the category, and at 65.9 points per game in the Big Ten, they're eighth.

Making special note of his team's defensive field goal percentage - now second in the Big Ten at just 41.2 percent against conference opponents - Chambers acknowledged the critical scoreless stretches that have plagued his Nittany Lions this season.

"We have stretches that just kill us. Three, four minute stretches that we just don't score," he said. "We're competing at a high level and we're playing some really good teams.

"But then you hit that three to four minute period of turnover, missed shot, turnover, missed shot, BAM. Down 10. But then you battle back. You battle back and you get it to 5. Then you just miss some shots. I mean, we're getting good shots, they're just not falling. They're just not falling. And these kids earn it. They do. They're in here shooting. They're getting shots up. Can't change now. We gotta keep doing what we're doing."

With four games left on the schedule, starting with Ohio State and followed by a Sunday afternoon date with No. 14-ranked Wisconsin, and finally, at Northwestern and at Minnesota to close out the season on the first Thursday and Sunday in March, respectively, at 13-14 on the season and 4-10 in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions have an opportunity to build on the best winning mark in Chambers' short tenure at Penn State.

Focusing on the immediacy of Thursday night's matchup, Chambers said he and his team are taking each day as it comes.

"I'm trying to win today. If we get too far ahead of ourselves, we start saying we gotta win out, and we gotta win the Big Ten Championship and things like that when we get to the tournament, then there will be a let down and the next day comes and you're not going to win that day because the let down is too great," he said. "You put too much pressure on these kids to win that game.

"Do we have to play with a sense of urgency? No question. There's no doubt about it. Do we have to play with desperation. There's no question. No doubt about it. But, you win today, do that today so that you're developing the habits for tomorrow. Tomorrow's not guaranteed, so let's just win today. Let's focus on today, let's do the best job we can do today. That's what I've been saying to them since Sunday. That's what we're going to do."

Note:

- Transfer shooting guard Allen Roberts has moved on from his career at Penn State. In one season with the Nittany Lions, Roberts appeared in 18 games, knocking down nearly 35 percent of his shots and averaging 5.7 points per game.

Said Chambers, "Allen is a basketball player. He wants to play. He was the leading scorer at Miami of Ohio. He wants to play.

"We're not happy with how things turned out, and he's not happy, and he had dreams of something different and so did we. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way and it just doesn't work out."


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