UNIVERSITY PARK — When you’re in the middle of a four-game losing streak and on your worst shooting stretch of the season, home is a good place to play.
Unfortunately, for Penn State, the Big Ten — with six teams ranked in the Associated Press Top-25 — doesn’t have many well-mannered houseguests.
Today, the Nittany Lions will face No. 18 Michigan State and its second-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten. The game tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
The Spartans allow just 57.7 points per game, second only to Wisconsin’s 54.7. Tom Izzo’s crew also holds opponents to just under 37 percent field goal shooting on the season.
The Nittany Lions (8-8, 0-4 Big Ten) are shooting 29.7 percent over the last three contests.
When they have come, points generally come from either D.J. Newbill or Jermaine Marshall. Newbill leads the team in scoring at 14.9 per game and Marshall is second at 14.1.
The duo remains the second highest scoring backcourt in the conference, but that has not come without some growing pains.
“D.J. and Jermaine have been our leading scores all year long, and you know what they’re our best players,” Chambers said. “They may be pressing in some situations, but they’re trying to be our leaders and sometimes they try to put the team on their backs when we go through droughts.”
But Chambers’ strategy has been to give them, Newbill in particular, room to make mistakes.
“Play aggressive and let me teach you,” Chambers said of Newbill. “That’s how it has to be because if he becomes a robot you’re taking everything away from that kid.”
“He needs to go make plays,” he continued. “He needs to turn the ball over. He needs to take bad shots. Then we need to sit down, break it down (on film) before another game and coach him and teach him.”
When he’s not being whistled for fouls, freshman Brandon Taylor is a major factor on offense, especially with Penn State’s heavy pick-and-roll style.
Teams have begun switching screens involving Taylor and Newbill because of the freshman’s 3-point prowess. He leads the team from behind the arc at 38 percent. He’s even added some low-post moves to his repertoire.
“That’s going to be huge for his development as a player,” Chambers said of his post game. “Everybody is switching our dribble hand-offs and ball screens, which is fine because he have a mismatch. He has to want to take that mismatch.”
Taylor led the team with 14 shot attempts against Purdue (4 for 14). Seven of his attempts were 3-pointers and one was a nice turn-around jumper from down low.
Chambers is also looking elsewhere for production and not just offensive.
Kevin Onyeaka joined the team after the walk-on tryout process in October. The 6-foot-5 forward saw his first action of the season against Purdue.
“I was surprised, but it was more like finally this is my chance,” Onyeaka said. He said Chambers is looking for hustle plays from him, not necessarily offense.
“It’s a leap to come into our program because we work so hard and do so many different things and I think he’s adjusted very well,” Chambers said of Onyeaka.
A senior academically, Chambers said Onyeaka was likely the best pure athlete on the team and a very hard worker.
“I reward guys who work hard in practice, even if it’s only a minute or a shot clock (possession),” Chambers said. “They’ve earned the right to wear the jersey, now they’ve earned the right to play a couple of minutes.”
Kevin Montminy and Akosa Maduegbunam also logged first-half minutes. None of the three significantly altered the box score, but they didn’t hurt the team either.
As if struggling to find offense wasn’t enough of a predicament for Penn State, the Spartans (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) are also the fourth best field-goal percentage shooting team in the Big Ten (46.9).
Keith Appling, a 6-foot-1-junior guard, scores 13.8 points per game to lead the team. Gary Harris, a 6-foot-4-freshman guard, is second at 12.9.
The Nittany Lions have struggled with small, quick guards all season without their own speedster in Tim Frazier.
Chambers made no bones about how he’ll try to cope with the Spartans speed.
“We have to pack it in,” Chambers said. “Whether it’s man or zone, we have to pack it in and try to keep (Appling) out of the paint.
“He’s a terrific basketball player and they’re so well coached,” he continued. “They’re tough, they’re physical, and they’re huge! But we have to somehow keep them out of the paint.”
This will be the only meeting this season between the two schools. Michigan State leads the series 30-7 and won 77-57, last season in East Lansing.
It will also be Penn State’s third ranked opponent since Jan. 7 against No. 2 Indiana. They will host unranked Nebraska (9-8, 0-4 Big Ten) on Saturday.
“The Big Ten is a really great league,” Chambers said. “We went from Indiana to playing a Northwestern style of team, to playing a rugged … Purdue team. That’s a heck of a week and we have another one coming.”
“I love it,” he continued. “I don’t like losing, but I enjoy going up against these coaches and playing the chess match.”