After Penn State outworked, outplayed and upset the previously unbeaten Bucknell Bison last week, confidence should be high as the Nittany Lions prepare to face a Boston College team coming off a loss to relative Division I newcomer Bryant University.
But confidence is something — like his team’s offensive identity — that Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said is a work in progress, something that will come with time as his team navigates life without Tim Frazier.
“I would say they definitely feel more confident and that they feel they can win games without Tim, but it’s a day-to-day basis,” Chambers said at his weekly press conference. “It’s something that I have to continue to stress and emphasize every single day.”
The Nittany Lions (3-2) will face the Eagles (2-4) for the second straight season in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at 9:15 p.m tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State traveled to Chestnut Hill, Mass., last season and beat the Eagles 62-54, powered by 22 points apiece from Frazier and Jermaine Marshall.
The Nittany Lions have won four of their last five ACC/Big Ten Challenge games.
“I think we’re still developing our habits, still creating our identity, who we are and who we want to be post-Tim Frazier,” Chambers said. “So everyday I have to be all over them about playing with great confidence … ”
Boston College head coach Steve Donahue faces similar challenges with a team comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores. The Eagles’ three leading scorers — Ryan Anderson, Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon — are all underclassmen.
Bryant’s 56-54 victory over the Eagles on Sunday was its first against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. The Bulldogs began playing a Division I schedule in the 2008-2009 season and became a full-time member in September 2012.
“Turnovers and poor shooting have been our two major issues,” Donahue said over the phone. “When we are going well we are sharing the ball, moving it back and forth and not forcing shots.”
Anderson, a 6-foot-8-sophomore forward, leads the Eagles in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (10.4) but has been hampered by an ankle injury. Donahue said he will play tonight but will not be 100 percent.
Hanlan and Rahon, both freshman guards, are adept at scoring points but also lead the team in turnovers. Hanlan is a native of Quebec, who hit the game-winning free throw that gave the Eagles a 50-49 win over Auburn (2-4) last week. He has scored in double-digits in four out of six games this season (12.5 points per game), but also leads the team with 19 turnovers. Boston College averages more than 13 turnovers per game.
D.J. Newbill has also committed his share of turnovers after stepping into an unfamiliar role as the team’s new point guard. Sans Tim Frazier, no Nittany Lion has more assists than turnovers. In fact, Penn State has committed 67 turnovers compared to just 39 assists in its five games this season.
Newbill might lead the team with 20 turnovers, but Chambers is preaching patience as his new floor leader earns valuable on-the-job training.
“He has a tough job,” Chambers said. “He’s not a point guard. We keep throwing him into the furnace. He’s going to turn the ball over. He’s not used to having it in his hands for 40 minutes.”
When the season began Chambers’ strategy was to have Newbill spell Frazier at the point for just a few minutes per game.
“Now you’re telling a kid who’s never played the point that you’re going to play the point for 40 minutes,” Chambers said. “That’s almost unfair. He’s going to have his challenges and he’s going to have his ups and downs and we’ll have to be patient with him.”
After three turnovers and two assists in the first half against Bucknell, Newbill got some tips from Frazier at halftime. He only turned the ball over once and had five assists in the second half.
“I thought for the most part he did a very good job,” Chambers said of Newbill. “And I think he’s going to shoot the ball a lot better once he understands when to attack and when to pass. Tim went through the same thing early on last year … once (Newbill) gets that feel … I think his percentages will go back up.”
As a team, Penn State’s assists aren’t likely to increase if its shooting woes continue. The Nittany Lions have yet to put together two quality-shooting halves in a game this season. Its 65 percent second-half shooting against Bucknell was by far Penn State’s best but was preceded by 16 percent shooting in the first half.
But even as Penn State continues to find its offensive identity without Frazier, Chambers said the team’s intensity on the defensive end cannot wane.
When asked if his team had the personnel to outscore opponents Chambers smiled.
“I never want to outscore anybody,” Chambers joked. “I want to defend and rebound and be nasty basketball players. ... I’ll never (try to) outscore anybody; it’s not in my DNA. It would be nice though to make a ton of shots in one game this year. ”