Patrick Chambers would have loved standing next to junior guard D.J. Newbill Thursday afternoon in the South Gym at the Bryce Jordan Center.
With more media on hand than usual for the final availability before the team's big 'Return to Rec' event this weekend, Chambers held a short press conference followed by player interviews before their mid-afternoon practice.
Winners of an ugly 68-59 slug-fest against Duquesne at the CONSOL Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, Newbill and the Nittany Lions returned to practice with not only a key road scalp, but also, with a mindset emboldened by one of Chambers' core messages for the past two years.
"I think what it shows is that we stuck together and had a great attitude, which is our foundation. I think that we had a great attitude and when things got bad, we just stuck together, got in the huddle like, 'We got this, just keep fighting,'" Newbill said.
Leading by as many as 19 points late in the second half, a Dukes' run and some spotty free throw shooting put the Nittany Lions back on the defensive down the home stretch. Emerging with a win in the city of Pittsburgh for the first time in nearly two decades though, Newbill said he thought the improvement to 8-3 on the season showed the composure and readiness to play that he and his teammates have been fighting to display all year.
Finishing with just 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the floor - but backed by a career-high 13 assists that boost his totals to the tops in the country this season - senior point guard Tim Frazier concurred with his teammate's assessment.
"I think we did OK. We didn't come out of it the best that we can, but I think we strived and withstood that run that they made and we made our own personal runs and the game-winning plays that needed to be made to get the win," he said. "Basketball is a game of runs, so the other team is going to make runs, we're going to make runs, and whoever makes the last run and makes the most stops at the end of the game wins."
Specifically, the Nittany Lions saw big contributions again from transfer guard Allen Roberts, who poured in a team-high 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 3-of-8 clip from beyond-the-arc, and big man Donovon Jack, who backed up his career-high points performance against Marshall with a 9 point, 12 rebound, 6 block display at Duquesne.
Chambers, admittedly greedy for more from his players not named Newbill or Frazier, said Roberts' 15 points could have been 21 and three rebounds could have been six. Throw in the clear development of Jack's confidence and understanding of the game and Chambers sees a team that is making progression toward the goals he has set out for it, including defensively.
"Our defense is getting better. Our defense is getting stops and we're getting timely rebounds. We're not getting rebounds all the time, but we're getting timely ones, crucial ones, critical ones," he said, noting his team's 6th-place Big Ten ranking in defensive field goal percentage, 11th-place in three-point defense and eighth in rebounding margin.
With Princeton (7-1 overall) on the horizon at Rec Hall on Penn State's campus Saturday (2 p.m., BTN) and just one more non conference game afterward against Mount St. Mary's on Dec. 22, the always affable Chambers evaluated his team as it currently stands.
"Are we ever happy?" he asked with a smile. "I'd rather be sitting up here 10-1. I'd feel a little bit better.
"We always want to get better, but I like the direction we're headed in. I feel like we're in a good place as far as where we're going."