Another tough loss relegated to the past, the Penn State men's basketball team returns to action Wednesday evening in Bloomington, Ind., to take on the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.
The Nittany Lions (12-12 overall, 3-8 Big Ten) are coming off Sunday afternoon's 60-55 loss to Illinois at the Bryce Jordan Center, the sixth time during the 2013-14 season they've lost by 5-or-less points. Meanwhile, Indiana (14-9, 4-6) is coming off its own tough loss, a competitive 66-60 showdown at Minnesota last Saturday.
Plagued by an offensive scoring drought of more than 9 minutes that effectively prevented the Nittany Lions from picking up their fourth win in five games, head coach Patrick Chambers explained Monday afternoon some of the improvements he'd like to see on that end of the floor. Failing to earn a win in all but one game in which the Nittany Lions didn't feature at least three scorers in double-figures, relying only on Tim Frazier (16.2 ppg) and D.J. Newbill (17.7 ppg) for the team's scoring has proven ineffective.
"When we went to half court… we gotta set better screens, we gotta cut more, we gotta share the basketball," he said. "We really shared the basketball in the nonconference. I don't see it as much in conference play. I give a lot of credit to the Big Ten teams and the coaching and the scouts.
"But we have to share the basketball and other guys gotta step up and make some shots, because at the end of the clock, it's Tim or D.J. and a ball screen and we're trying to make plays. It hasn't been as effective as it was during our three game winning streak. So we have to put a couple more wrinkles in there, change some things up a little bit, but we have to share the basketball. But more important, we gotta get stops and turnovers - that really helps. Or a blocked shot. That usually really swings the momentum our way."
Asked Monday whether or not his teammates are suffering from a lack of confidence, Newbill, averaging 18.6 points per game in his eight games since getting shutout against Minnesota in January, said defense, rebounding and hustle plays are the counterbalance to a shooting cold streak.
As a result, little mistakes become magnified and lead to the type of disappointing result that fell against the NIttany Lions on Sunday afternoon, he said.
"First and foremost, you earn the right to make shots. A lot of guys have been getting here in the gym without coaches telling us to, just on their own, getting up shots. So I don't think guys have less confidence in their shot, even if they're missing," he said. "We're built on defending and rebounding. That's being a feel good team if you're not playing hard or not playing well because you're missing shots.
"That's what attitude is for, so that when you're not making shots, there's a bunch of other things you can do to help the team."
Specifically, according to Frazier, even with his teammates' combined 34.5 percent shooting effort from the floor on Sunday afternoon, he's determined to keep them involved through a poor shooting stretch.
"Keep passing it to them. Keep telling them to shoot," he said. "I've been in that same spot and I'm pretty sure everybody's been in that same spot where they're not making shots or you're missing shots, and it definitely gets into your head.
"But, you can't get on a good shooting streak unless you keep shooting, so you just keep passing it to them and keep telling them to let it fly."
If the Nittany Lions hope to have an opportunity to knock off an Indiana team that has faced its own share of ups-and-downs this season - but has been strong at home (3-1 B1G), most recently knocking off No. 10-ranked Michigan, 63-52 - those flown shots will almost certainly have to connect.
Falling to the bottom of the conference standings following the loss to Illinois, the Nittany Lions are still just two games behind the conference's sixth-place teams with seven regular season games left to play.
Keeping that in mind, Newbill and Frazier both insisted that they're looking forward, not back.
"We can't control the past and we can't control the future. All we can do is worry about the present, and today we've got practice and another opportunity to win the game we love," said Frazier. "We don't take that for granted, and we gotta go out there and try to get better.
"It's hard to let tough games like that go, but you use it as motivation to get better and continue to get better each day, which is our goal. We're trying to be the best team we can be at the end of the year."
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on the BTN.