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March 20, 2014

Analysis: With win, Nittany Lions get CBI value

Like the NCAA Tournament's step-child, the NIT, the step-grandchild College Basketball Invitational requires its participating schools to pony up in order to play.

Understanding the opportunity the CBI would provide Penn State to continue to improve, head coach Patrick Chambers didn't need to do much convincing of athletic director Dave Joyner and other administrators to get the go ahead.

Though its ultimate dividends won't come until next season, in knocking off Hampton 69-65 Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions got the value they were seeking.

"For the last two years, they've had off for two weeks, and we'd start our spring workouts. Now, we practiced," Chambers said. "It feels pretty good. We're preparing for the future. Let's get a taste of postseason, see what it feels like, see what it's like, see how we're going to run things.

"It can only help us. I really believe that it can only help us."

Specifically, Chambers was able to produce double-digit minutes of playing time for nine Nittany Lions, significantly besting season averages for Brandon Taylor (31 min), Geno Thorpe (25 min), and Jordan Dickerson (18 min), all of whom are expected to be key contributors next year.

And, even though Chambers had hoped to get Graham Woodward more time on the hardwood, the true freshman point guard handled some heavy responsibilities in the game's crucial (admittedly, too close for comfort) moments.

Trading foul shots and layups with the Pirates in the final minute, Chambers put the ball in Woodward's hands to complete a critical inbounds pass. Said Chambers, "One of the toughest things to do with less than a minute to go. It really takes a skill. I thought he handled it well for the first time. Now he has that rep and that's only going to make him better for the next game."

Though fifth-year senior guard Tim Frazier played 38 minutes, chalked up to Chambers' competitive instincts, the overall minutes were less important than the situational basketball experiences that have been lacking for many of the younger Nittany Lions this season.

Combined with Dickerson's late-game defensive presence and Thorpe's four clutch converted free throws in the final 22 seconds, Chambers was pleased at the number of uncomfortable situations his inexperienced Nittany Lions were able to work through Wednesday night.

"I think they stepped up to the challenge," he said. "It wasn't perfect. I don't like the layups at the end of the game, you gotta play better defense than that, but they were so afraid to foul, we gotta clean that up, but we will as long as they have the vision and they want to continue to get better, we'll be all right going into Monday."

Set to take on Siena on Monday night at the Saints' home floor in Albany, N.Y., the process now continues for Chambers and the NIttany Lions as they look to extend their season to the tournament's semifinal round.

Regardless of the outcome, Wednesday night's experience and the additional practice time offered by the CBI have given Chambers and the Nittany Lions a much-needed taste of positivity before moving on to the 2014-15 season, he said.

"I think you're getting a taste of the future. That's what you're seeing," he said, noting his four Nittany Lions notching double-figures in scoring. "If we can get four guys in double figures, it's really going to make us a tough team to guard next year. It's going to make us a much better team going into '14-'15."

Tip-off and television coverage has not yet been determined for Penn State's game at Siena Monday night.

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