STATE COLLEGE — There are no magic formulas for bouncing back after a disappointing loss.
When Penn State travels to Bloomington to take on No. 7 Indiana – a team not far removed from its own rebuilding phase – the plan will be simple.
“Get better everyday,” said head coach Patrick Chambers. “Keep working hard …”
After his team’s 68-64 loss to Nebraska on Saturday, which featured five missed free throws in the last 24 seconds of play, Chambers gave his team Sunday off.
When they returned to practice Monday morning he pushed them hard and with deliberate intent.
“Try to get our habits back, try to clear our heads, try to move on,” Chambers said. “Continue to promote a positive attitude and confidence. That’s what we need. We have another heck of a week facing us this week and we have to be ready to play.”
After the Hoosiers (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten), the Lions will host No. 14 Ohio State (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) on Saturday in Coaches versus Cancer Band Together Day.
Tough times and losing streaks have a tendency to stress bonds, but D.J. Newbill said the opposite is happening with his team.
“It’s just bringing us closer together as a team and as a family,” Newbill said last week. “It builds a family together going through tough times. So I think our team is doing a great job at that, just sticking together.”
The Nittany Lions will need a near flawless team performance to contend with an explosive Hoosiers squad that boasts five players averaging double-digits in points.
Cody Zeller is the anchor of the team; doing all the dirty work that allows the Hoosiers’ specialty players to be, well, special. Oh, and he also averages 17 points and eight rebounds as well.
Christian Watford’s 6-foot-9 frame and ability to put the ball on the floor was a problem the Nittany Lions failed to solve in the teams first meeting at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Watford scored 10 points in less than four minutes and baited freshman Brandon Taylor into two early fouls. His flurry was part of a larger 15-3 run that staggered Penn State before it fell 73-54.
Watford’s nearly 13 points per game added to Victor Oladipo’s 13, Jordan Hulls’ 11, Will Sheehey’s 10 and Zeller’s 17 make up the bulk of the Hoosiers’ 84 points per game overall.
However, their scoring is down slightly in Big Ten play at “just” 71 points per game (third best in the conference).
As Penn State continues its quest to rebuild a viable and consistently competitive program, the Hoosiers and Tom Crean’s rise are instructive.
Crean isn’t that far removed from a 3-15 Big Ten record during the 2010-2011 season. Then he landed Zeller last season and the program’s stock and the coach’s profile skyrocketed.
So what’s the key? Is it recruiting? What does it take to breathe life back into a program?
“Patience,” Crean said during the Big Ten coaches teleconference this week. “Having patience and perspective and making sure that you truly stay with the vision that you have even when others don’t see it.”
Chambers’ vision has been consistent and isn’t likely to waver. If Tim Frazier didn’t go down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in November, maybe what Chambers saw in his mind would be projected on the court.
D.J. Newbill is sixth in the conference in scoring (15.3) and Jermaine Marshall is seventh (15.2). The duo continues to be the second highest scoring tandem in the Big Ten. Against No. 18 Michigan State they combined for 56 of the teams’ 72 points.
They also account for 49 percent of the Lions points and steals and 55 percent of the team’s made and attempted free throws.
However, against Nebraska the pair struggled from the field. Marshall shot just 5-of-16, but scored all 18 of his points in a critical second-half surge. Newbill (3-of-11) had six turnovers but flirted with a triple-double, netting 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Chambers has asked both to carry most of the Lions burden. He’s also asked more of his ancillary pieces.
Ross Travis’ seven rebounds per game are good for fourth in the conference. He led the team in scoring for the first time in his career with 14 aggressive points in the last meeting against the Hoosiers.
Brandon Taylor has found a way to avoid the whistle after being plagued by foul trouble in his first few conference games. The freshman has also been a much bigger contributor on the glass.
Penn State had a season-high 17 offensive rebounds against Indiana in the last meeting, a strength for the team all season.
Chambers semed to say his team is still in the process of licking its wounds from the Cornhuskers defeat, but that he still sees progress.
“It’s human nature,” Chambers said. “They’re 18 to 23 years old. They know they’re 0-6. We just have to keep fighting, getting better and give ourselves chances to win.”
“At least three of the games we gave ourselves chances to compete and to win,” he continued. “Now, we haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but I tell them we’re close! And you have to trust that I know that we’re close.”
If Crean’s hypothesis is correct, Chambers’ words speak to perspective and persistence. Only one left.
“We just have to be patient,” Chambers said, “and just keep getting better.”