Lamar Stevens and the Nittany Lions aren’t dancing around the reality for two out of their past three games.
Losses at N.C. State and back at the Bryce Jordan Center against Wisconsin on Monday night, the Penn State men’s basketball program hasn’t just sustained a pair of checks in the L column. Rather, in a game against the Wolfpack that saw the Nittany Lions take an 11-0 lead, and a 20-7 run to close out the loss against the Badgers, Penn State has missed prime chances at earning big wins.
“We definitely look at them as missed opportunities, but it's also learning lessons for us,” said Stevens. “We're still a pretty young team. But we've played a lot of games and we have freshmen that play a lot of minutes, so I think there's a lot of stuff for everybody to learn from these games and learn from them now instead of later in the season or in Big Ten play when it really hits its stride.”
Head coach Patrick Chambers is counting on it.
“They're ready to get back to work,” he said. “I think they're disappointed. We had a great opportunity and we didn't seize it.”
At 7-3 on the season with a 1-1 split in the program’s two December Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions have spent the week working on internal improvement in advance of Saturday’s home game against George Washington. With another week between the GW game and a trip to George Mason on Sunday, Dec. 17, the Nittany Lions’ rapidly paced November that saw their first 10 games played in just 24 days will slow down dramatically.
Determined to utilize an opportunity at development, Chambers wants to see improvement in a few important areas.
“They understand that we have to do simple, better. We have to take care of the details,” said Chambers. “I think offensively, we can cut harder, screen harder, run harder, help each other out, be a little bit more selfless. Defensively, we can be in stances more. Although our defenses is still one of the top 20 defenses in the country, it can be better. I think we should get more deflections, I think we should contest a lot more shots. We gotta get all on the same page, and I'd like to see five guys out there talking.”
Owning the fifth-ranked scoring offense in the Big Ten and the seventh-ranked scoring defense, Penn State’s numbers are improved on both ends of the floor 10 games into the season against its performance a year ago.
Still, in what has become a recurring point of emphasis as the team continues to work on its consistency, Penn State’s approach to the mental side of the game has been as important as its physical training.
Convinced that their mental fortitude is stronger than at any point last season, though, Stevens expects the group to compose itself and move forward.
“I think we're learning a lot from these games. And I think our mentality, we're a really strong team,” he said. “At this time last year, I think we lost a couple more games than we did this year. So we've dealt with losing last year and I think we've really learned how to cope and bounce back from losses.”