Less than 24 hours after his Nittany Lions' second loss in a row, a 60-55 clunker versus Illinois on Sunday afternoon, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers met with the media at the Bryce Jordan Center to preview their Wednesday matchup against Indiana.
The quick recap of a game he'd probably prefer to forget - "They made the winning plays. We played great defense, did some good things, got some turnovers when we had to get turnovers. We needed to drive the ball more and when we drove the ball we needed to get fouled or finish, and we didn't do it. I thought we had some really, really good opportunities, and we didn't get it done." - was dispelled with ease.
Save for a minor defensive mistake allowing Illinois' freshman Kendrick Nunn to nail a wide-open baseline 3-pointer in what would ice the game, the Nittany Lions bested their Big Ten defensive points allowed average by 12 points. They also won the rebounding battle for only the second time in 11 conference games.
Because of the competitiveness of the game that saw neither team build a lead of greater than 9 points, Chambers acknowledged the inevitable magnification of each and every turnover or defensive mistake down the stretch, but ultimately found himself back where he started.
"I thought we defended and rebounded, played hard, but you can't go through nine minute droughts and expect to win in the Big Ten," he said. "It's just impossible."
Coming from a squad that averaged 14.38 assists as a team in the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Nittany Lions have averaged just 8.8 as a team against Big Ten competition. Partially as a result - facing teams that actually play defense - Penn State's scoring average has now dipped from 81.2 points per game (among the best in the Big Ten for the nonconference) down to 65.5 per game, good enough for 8th place in the league.
Noting any number of remedies that could potentially lead to wins in close games instead of the losses that have plagued the Nittany Lions through the course of the 2013-14 season - from sharing the ball, making open shots, getting defensive stops, creating turnovers, and even blocked shots - Chambers regularly exhausts his options.
Instead, Chambers identified some of the psychology that can affect a team lacking confidence as shot after shot fails to go down. Said Chambers, "You know what happens, when you don't hit the front end of a one-and-one, and you miss a layup, and the score stays the same - 52-49 - and it's still the same after a minute and another minute, and then I think the pressure and the stress starts to mount. 'I gotta make a shot. I gotta do something.' I think that affected us a little bit."
Once again citing the need for a consistent third scorer - regardless of whether John Johnson, Brandon Taylor, Graham Woodward or others fill the role from night to night - Chambers explained that when D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier are blanketed by opponents and the complementary pieces still don't produce offensively, options become limited.
As opposed to the Nittany Lions' winning record when three or more players score in double-digits, their mark fell to 1-7 on the season when only two reach 10+ points with Sunday afternoon's loss and just 2-8 when scoring less than 70 points in games this season.
Said Chambers, "It's that third scorer, and sometimes when you have four scorers, you're really good. It's the way teams are guarding us, it's the way teams are playing us. When we get the ball side to side, we do some really good things. When we put the ball inside and it comes out, we do some really good things. But, we're all in this together. So, I gotta find better ways that we can't go 13 minutes without a basket, and I gotta put our guys in better position.
"You gotta take open shots, you gotta play with great confidence, and you gotta live with the results. I think again, sometimes when the results aren't what they want them to be, that affects other things, other parts of the game. We're sophomores. You got two veterans and a lot of youth. And we gotta keep getting better. That's what it's gotta be."
The Nittany Lions (12-12 overall, 3-8 Big Ten) return to action Wednesday evening in Bloomington, Ind., to take on the Hoosiers (14-9, 4-6). The game airs on BTN at 7 p.m.