With 5 minutes left to play in the Nittany Lions' 58-47 win against Penn on Saturday afternoon, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers embraced redshirt sophomore forward Jon Graham as though he'd never let go.
Graham had just dumped in back-to-back chippies to give his Lions a commanding 49-39 lead against the visiting Quakers at the Bryce Jordan Center, his first four points of the afternoon, but the implication was of much more than that.
"I love the kid so much, and he just wants to please and play so hard and do the right things. I know his confidence was down," Chambers said, citing Graham's lack of success scoring in the paint earlier in the game. "You feel for him. You feel for him and that's why I just wanted to let him know I got his back."
Graham's struggles offensively this season have been well documented.
The Nittany Lions' primary post player, Graham has just 18 total points in his seven games started, converting on just 29.2 percent of his shots. Of course, defensively, Graham has been another story entirely, shutting down Bucknell big man Mike Muscala and posting some of the team's best rebounding numbers, so, as point guard D.J. Newbill explained after Saturday's game, Graham's success Saturday was well-earned.
"Jon, he's been working real hard on just catching the ball and finishing around the rim," Newbill said. "Just to see him, with all the hard work he put in, to make those layups and be happy about it, I felt good for my teammate. Coach Chambers felt good for him too, because we know how much work he put in."
Add Jermaine Marshall to that list, too.
Leading the Nittany Lions with 18 points on 4 of 10 shooting from the floor and a 9 of 10 clip from the free throw line, Marshall did many of the things that Chambers has been hammering home in recent weeks, especially after losing senior point guard Tim Frazier two weeks ago.
"He played great. I think it's because he took pretty good shots," Chambers said, noting how difficult running offensive systems is against the Quakers' vaunted defense. "As a coach, you have to understand running offense is probably not the smartest thing. So, I was pleased with how many turnovers there were at the end of the game.
"We just had to drive the ball and make good decisions and keep everything very simple, and that's what we did. We started to spread them out, work the ball side to side and just drive the ball and put it in the post. (Jermaine) really mixed it up, which is great, and he needs to do that.
"And I'm happy for him. I gotta tell you, I'm all over him. Out of anybody on this team, I'm all over him, because I have a vision of who he should be and who he can become, and he's slowly starting to head that way."
After Wednesday night's lackluster performance against Boston College, the Nittany Lions all showed a resiliency in taking on the Quakers Saturday afternoon.
Jumping out to a 7-point lead on a Brandon Taylor 3-pointer (11 points, 6 rebounds), Penn State was able to take a 31-22 lead into the halftime locker room. Though the Quakers were able to hang tough, cutting the lead to just four points with roughly 7 minutes to play in the second half, Graham's points, along with a flagrant foul call that led to an ejection of Penn guard Jamal Lewis at the 1:44 mark.
Already ahead 52-44, Marshall was slammed to the hardwood on a steal and fast break, sending him to the line to hit both, followed by a Newbill jumper to give the NIttany Lions' their biggest lead of the game, 56-44, with just 1 minute, 26 seconds left to play.