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April 1, 2014

Hoops: Chambers wraps season of highs and lows

Following a tumultuous season that featured both disappointments and small strides forward, the dust has settled for the Penn State men's basketball program.

Tuesday afternoon, third-year head coach Patrick Chambers held his year-end press conference at the Bryce Jordan Center, at once putting to bed the Nittany Lions' 16-18 College Basketball Invitational year while looking ahead to the future.

Candid about each, Chambers had plenty to say about the strides the program made this season and the improvements that must continue to be made through the offseason.

Here's a news and notes breakdown from the presser:

1) Though the Nittany Lions found themselves in 12 games decided by five-or-fewer points this season, the major takeaway fell to one word:


Failing to crack 70 points in the final month of the season, the Nittany Lions finished the year shooting just 42.8 percent as a team from the floor, a drop from a nonconference mark that finished at roughly 48 percent. Worse, Penn State failed to connect from beyond the arc, finishing the season with a team 31.9 percent shooting clip from 3-point land versus its opponents 35.2 mark.

"It's repetition. We're youthful and we get amped up out there and we get sped up. I think with every passing year, everything slows down a little bit, especially for guys like John Johnson, Jordan Dickerson, Geno Thorpe, Graham (Woodward). I think the pact of the game will slow down. I think that's when you're going to see shots go down," Chambers said. "Plus, with experience, I think you'll start to see shots go down. We're going to have seniors and juniors next year, which is exciting.

"Look, we worked hard. We've been going since July really, because you have eight weeks in the summer now, and then you've got 10 practices. It was a long, long, long year of a lot of ups and a lot of downs and a lot of highs and a lot of lows. But I think because of all the experience, I think it will pay off in the end."

In just conference play, the Nittany Lions finished 9th in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging just 65.3 points per game after reaching a season high of roughly 81 points per game in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Additionally, they fell to 10th in field goal percentage against Big Ten opponents, hitting just 40.6 percent of their shots.

2) Specifically as it related to 3-point shooting, Chambers was even more direct. Saying that he understood his team needed to connect on six or seven 3-pointers each game out, the Nittany Lions' inability to produce consistent deep shooting was troubling.

"I felt like before the season started we needed to make seven threes to be competitive. I thought we were competitive," he said. "We were in 10 games less than six? I could go down and rattle them, I'm sure you guys could too. If you do get to seven, you win those games. Hell, if you get to six, you might win those games. We were making them.

"Again, we're playing against great teams in the Big Ten that are going to speed you up - a little bit longer, a little bit more athletic - so you're not taking an in rhythm shot. In the noconference, man we really looked good even though we lost a couple of tough games, of sharing the basketball. We really shared the basketball and did some good things. I don't know if it was the defenses in the Big Ten or Tim and D.J. felt like they had to take more responsibility and take more shots, but we gotta do a better job of making threes in games, there's no question."

In the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions finished 11th of 12 teams, connecting on just 29.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a downturn from their 36 percent clip in the nonconference schedule.

3) One of the more interesting and insightful comments from Chambers' presser came in the form of a question as to whether or not his Nittany Lions were able to get to the free throw line as much as he wanted. Shooting 754 free throws on the season - connecting on 74.1 of them - the Nittany Lions finished the year with a deficit of 128 in the category.

Noting the rule change that he had once been excited about for its possibility to send senior point guard Tim Frazier to the foul line, Chambers was blunt about the ultimate effect.

"I thought Frazier would live at the line, and I don't think he got a favorable whistle. I really don't. I'm not sure Newbill did. I thought those guys really did a good job of getting downhill, getting in the paint," Chambers said. "Heck, Wisconsin is in the Final Four. We scored 50 points in the paint against those guys. Fifty! Fifty! But yet, we're just not getting to the line at a rate that I thought... and when we did, it was usually a success. When we hit four or five threes and we got to the line 25 plus times, that usually was a good sign that we'd probably win that game.

"I'd like to get to the line a lot more, you're right, and I'd like to foul less on my side, which we did the last 10 or 12 games. I thought we did a much better job of playing hard without fouling. Now, I mixed up the defenses and I did some creative things on our end to prevent that stuff, but it's definitely a focus going into next season of playing hard without fouling and us getting to the line. I think it's all about straight line drives and going strong and tough and physical. I kind of sound like a football coach there, but it's the truth."

4) With Frazier's career at Penn State finished - and headed to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in a couple of weeks - the question for Chambers and the Nittany Lions is what becomes of the point guard position at Penn State next season.

Having a reliable option in second team All-Big Ten guard D.J. Newbill returning for his senior season, Chambers noted just how much Frazier played off the ball. Along with a pair of true freshmen and an incoming freshman, Chambers said he likes some of the choices he's going to have for the position next season.

"Is there a chance for D.J. to play the point next year? Yeah, no question, he can do it. I don't know if I want him to do it for forty, but yeah, I'd like him to do it for some of the game," Chambers said. "Geno Thorpe is going to have a chance, Shep Garner is going to have a chance, Graham Woodward is going to have a chance. And of course D.J., so you've got four guys that are going to fight it out for that No. 1 spot, which is good. It's a healthy competition.

"But it's going to be for the best chemistry, what's best for the team. It's going to be a little bit different because Tim is not here anymore, so things are going to - as a head coach, we've gotta tailor it to what our strengths are."

5) Further, the inclusion of Garner for Chambers' plans next season leads to questions about the expectations for both of the Nittany Lions' incoming true freshmen and the possibility for a third newcomer.

Holding one more available scholarship, it appears unlikely that Chambers and his staff would pull a current high school player to join the team this summer, but an option that would include the juco ranks could be a possibility he sad. Knowing the importance of both Garner and other incoming true freshman Isaiah Washington to the team this summer, Chambers said he's been stressing the level of preparedness it'll take for each to make an immediate impact.

"It's kind of a wait and see. We've talked to them all the time. Hopefully they come in ready to go. In shape, prepared, this is not a little step up. This is a giant leap from high school to the Big Ten," he said. "Obviously three teams being in the Elite Eight shows you how great this league is, top to bottom. Hopefully they come ready. If they come ready, I give everybody a chance. I always say, you earn the right for minutes and then everybody will have a chance to earn the right."

6) Finishing the year with a 16-18 overall record and the team's first postseason appearance since 2011's NCAA Tournament berth, Chambers was asked about the strides the program has made since his very late hiring following the abrupt departure of Ed DeChellis that spring.

Specifically, Chambers was asked whether or not there's an appreciation for the progress that has been made and, maybe moreso, if there's a sense of under appreciation to a certain extent.

"I do think we're undervalued a little for what we've done in such a short time. You get the job late and you're trying to build something, and it's a process. It takes time, and we all have to be patient, but I don't know if we were appreciated for what we did," he said. "Not me, the players. I don't know that they were appreciated for how hard they competed on a nightly basis.

"Every game, other than a few, I felt like they competed to the best of their ability. To be sitting here again, 15-16 wins, is a great jump up from where we were."

7) Following their 54-52 loss to Siena in the second round of the CBI last week, Chambers gave his team some time to rest before getting back at it this spring for individual workouts.

With three weeks to work with, the Nittany Lions will get back at it next week before turning it over to the captains for summer work that will include occasional supervised instruction under the NCAA's new rules regarding summer workouts.

Visibly spent from a season that began in July and just finished last week, Chambers acknowledged the benefits of some much needed rest and relaxation on the horizon.

"I'm looking forward to getting a couple of days off and seeing my family and spending some quality time with them," he said.

Penn State NEWS


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