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March 13, 2014
Lions pack for Sunday
The Penn State men's basketball team holds no illusions regarding its Thursday night matchup against Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Allow the 7-seed Gophers to score 81 points, cough up 16 team turnovers, or produce just two players in double-digit scoring - all of which occurred Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis - and the No. 10-seed Nittany Lions will quickly find themselves back in State College.
Dispersing the notion that a tight turnaround against an opponent that cruised to an 81-63 win just four days ago could be either a positive or negative, the game (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) is one the Nittany Lions are collectively approaching with optimism.
"(Losing) was definitely a disappointment," junior guard D.J. Newbill said. "But the good thing about it is we have another chance. We're going to take this opportunity and make the best out of it."
Since Sunday's loss, the Nittany Lions (15-16 overall, 6-12 Big Ten) and head coach Patrick Chambers have made every effort to shrug off the blowout that saw the Gophers (19-12, 8-10) take a 23-3 lead just 8 minutes into the game.
Crediting the Gophers' senior night atmosphere at Williams Arena - which hosted 12,775 rabid fans - along with some streaky shooting and the additional motivation of being an NCAA Tournament bubble team, the Nittany Lions aren't necessarily expecting to face the same circumstances Thursday evening.
"Look, they're playing for everything, all the marbles. I felt like we had a couple of good days of practice. We stayed out there in the Midwest, we worked hard, they jumped us and we turned the ball over," Chambers said Tuesday, noting his team's goal of less than 10 turnovers and producing multiple scorers, both of which eluded it. "Senior night, playing for an NCAA Tournament bid, you get it. I told our team we had to play that much better than our surrounding environment that we were about to go into. They did a good job, they played hard."
Focusing intently on self-improvement during practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling to the Midwest Wednesday afternoon - taking advantage of this week's no-class, spring break at Penn State - from senior point guard Tim Frazier to Chambers and Newbill, the refrain was a familiar one. Though the Gophers were admittedly outstanding on Sunday afternoon, many of the Nittany Lions' wounds were somewhat self-inflicted and able to be corrected.
Said Frazier, "We just want to be prepared. It's all about us. We want to be prepared as much as possible and be ready for their team.
"Obviously we just played them on Sunday. It was a tough game and we just saw them, so we're used to them already, but we definitely want to prepare and just focus on us and go out there and play as hard as we can."
Specifically, Newbill said taking care of the basketball to prevent turnovers has been a huge point of concern and correction this week. For the season, the Nittany Lions' turnover margin checks in with the middle of the pack in the conference, barely edging out the Gophers for the No. 8 spot (+0.48 vs. +0.42) for the year.
Meanwhile, defensively, the Nittany Lions will need to handle a Minnesota offense that has averaged 72.0 points per game this season (the same as Penn State), but has also produced a solid 34.7 3-point percentage against Penn State's league-worst 34.8 3-point defense.
Understanding the ramifications, with an outside shot at the NIT at best, Frazier - having helped the NIttany Lions earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament three years ago thanks to a B1G tournament run - said he had some simple words of advice for his teammates heading into the weekend.
"Just make sure you pack all the way to Sunday. Be prepared, believe that you'll be there on Sunday and go out there and compete," Frazier said. "I mean, we play our game, play Penn State basketball and there isn't a team that we can't beat. So you pack all the way until Sunday and be prepared to be there that long."
The winner between Penn State and Minnesota will face No. 2-seed Wisconsin on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the BTN.
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