PITTSBURGH - Penn State men's basketball head coach Patrick Chambers had a message to send Tuesday night to anyone that would listen.
Following his Nittany Lions' 78-69 loss to unbeaten Pitt at the Petersen Events Center, Penn State's third-year head coach took a stand against the lowly perceptions surrounding his program. Armed with arguably the best backcourt in the Big Ten in Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, Chambers appeared determined to garner some respect following his team's gutty performance in front of a ramped up Pitt crowd of 12,510 fans.
"I feel like we can compete every night. Whether it's Pitt, or whoever in the Big Ten, I feel like we have a good, solid team," Chambers said. "We have to continue to get better."
Sensing the tone of questions following the game - that the toe-to-toe effort until the final minutes was something to be proud of for a Penn State program without a history of success - Chambers didn't stop on that note.
"I hope people start taking us seriously, because I feel like… we're tired of everybody talking about us like we're not a good team," Chambers said, alluding to a question asked earlier as to whether or not he was "proud to be on the same floor" as the Panthers. "What does that mean? What does that really mean? We're a good team. We're a good basketball team. Get used to it. How's that sound?"
Asked why he believed his team wasn't being taken seriously, Chambers identified the program's limited history of success, but said, "Our attitude has changed, our mindset has changed, we're competing at a high level. We're not seeing great results the last two games, but we're getting there."
To an unidentified Pittsburgh beat reporter, Chambers' answers regarding the perception of the program weren't unworthy of a retort, though.
"Don't you think beating Bucknell would help that, though?" the reporter asked.
"Yeah, I agree... Nice low blow, but, yeah, I agree. You're right," Chambers responded, staring down the reporter.
Coming up short to the Bison for the first loss of the season, and consecutive lost games to Ole Miss on Saturday and now Pitt on Tuesday, at 6-3 on the 2013-14 campaign, the Nittany Lions return to the Bryce Jordan Center for a Saturday matchup against Marshall (4 p.m.). Certainly, though, they won't enter the game without feeling like an opportunity was probably missed on Tuesday night.
Guided by a gritty 27-point effort from senior point guard Tim Frazier, including a series of nifty layups and clutch shooting that prompted fans around the arena to gasp, the Nittany Lions left the Panthers trailing at the half, 30-28, for the first time in their season. Encouraged by the lead, the situation was not all roses for the Nittany Lions, though.
With two fouls apiece for big men Donovan Jack, Brandon Taylor and Julian Moore, plus another two fouls for guards Allen Roberts and Frazier, the Nittany Lions found themselves on the defensive to start the second half, and it only got worse.
Starting to build a 39-33 lead, consecutive fouls by Taylor and Frazier at the 16-minute mark and 14-minute mark, respectively, left the Lions on their heels. By the time the Panthers reeled off a dunk for an and-one by Talib Zanna (16 points), a Lamar Patterson (16 points) layup, two Cameron Wright (12 points) free throws and another Zanna layup, the Nittany Lions' lead evaporated into a 42-41 deficit.
Disarmed by new rules that have created vast inconsistencies among NCAA hoops officiating, Chambers concurred with a reporter who asked whether or not the Nittany Lions were playing not to foul defensively.
"You said it, I didn't say it, but I would agree with that," Chambers said. "I've got guys with three and four fouls, they don't want to foul. We're backing off. So, it can hurt."
Trading jabs for the next few minutes, the Panthers eventually reeled off a 5-point run from the 10-minute mark until a Newbill 3-pointer stopped the bleeding for Penn State with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left. Following another foul by Taylor at the 5:23 mark, his fourth, a Jack layup gave the Nittany Lions their final lead of the evening, 59-58.
From that point on, a quieted Petersen crowd got back into it when Pittsburgh-native Geno Thorpe was called for a foul, sending Panthers' guard James Robinson to the free throw line, where he connected with two makes. Coming up empty on a Frazier drive to the lane the next possession, a Lamar Patterson 3-ball from the wing put the Panthers up 63-59 with more than four minutes left to play.
A Roberts 3-point dagger on the other end cut the Panthers' lead back down to 1 point, 63-62, but another stretch of two Robinson layups and a Zanna jumper created a 69-62 lead for the home team and eliminated the Nittany Lions' shot at a comeback.
Making their cases for respect, both Newbill and Frazier echoed the sentiments of their head coach just moments prior.
"That's our team identity. Tough, nasty, gritty guys," Newbill said. "That's what coach teaches us. We just came in and did the same thing we do every game."