UNIVERSITY PARK — Have a quick glance at Penn State’s statistics and you’re likely to see the solution to a big problem that ails the only winless team in the Big Ten.
Tim Frazier’s name still tops the charts with 16.3 points per game, giving Patrick Chambers — on paper — what he thinks his team needs to get over the hump.
“I feel like we’re close if we can just get a third scorer … we’re close,” Chambers said after his team’s 65-51 loss to No. 14 Ohio State.
D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall are the only players to score in double digits during conference play.
Of course Frazier’s output came in just four games before rupturing his left Achilles tendon in November, but some of his teammates believe they can pick up the slack by committee.
“I think it has to be a collection (of guys),” said Marshall, the team’s second leading scorer (15.1) and the Big Ten’s sixth best producer of points (15.8). The whole team, we just need to step up as a unit and try to get the job done.”
During Chambers’ press conference he mentioned the growth and maturity he’s seeing from Marshall, whom he named a team captain just before conference play began. So as a team leader does Marshall push his teammates hard or encourage and nurture their confidence?
“A little bit of both,” Marshall said. “Sometimes guys get so caught up in the game they tend to worry.”
“We’ve been doing this for so long, just go out and have fun,” the junior tells them. “We’ve been playing this game since we were little kids. We had fun with it then, why not have fun with it now?”
Shooters keep shooting
Get Patrick Chambers talking about Brandon Taylor and he’s likely to tell you, “he’s a confident kid.” When conference play began, Chambers was also likely to lament the freshman’s penchant for committing early fouls and not accumulating enough rebounds.
Over the last four games Taylor — the team’s most consistent shooter for most of the season – has gone 5-of-24 from the field and 2-of-19 from the 3-point line.
But those struggles don’t seem to have dampened his confidence or made him willing to accept excuses. So, freshman wall or just missing shots?
“I just feel like I’m missing shots,” Taylor, who didn’t start against the Buckeyes for the first time in conference play, said. “I don’t listen to that freshman wall or freshman slump or whatever it’s called. I think it’s just an excuse for if you’re a freshman and you’re not playing as well as you were before. I just think the shots that I usually hit aren’t falling. They’ll fall. I just have to work on my shot more.”
He’s not hitting as many shots, but his stats have improved in other areas. After just two rebounds apiece in the first two games of Big Ten play, Taylor is averaging 4.6 rebounds through the next six, including two six-rebound games against large-bodied frontcourts in Purdue and Nebraska. He’s also drawing less scrutiny from referees.
But don’t worry about him getting bashful if his struggles from the field continue. Against the Buckeyes Taylor missed three 3-pointers in a little more than a minute, part of a 0 for 5 first half. He kept firing in the second half and finally connected (1-of-8 for the game).
“I’m a shooter,” he said. “Short-term memory. You just have to forget it. I’m always going to be confident. I’ll always shoot the ball when I’m open.”
Free Ross Travis
After mildly spraining his left knee in December, Ross Travis has been playing with the knee wrapped and braced. He finally shed both for Monday’s practice.
“I definitely feel freer and more explosive,” the sophomore said. “I feel like I can explode again. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get used to wearing that thing.”
Travis said the brace was adjusted to restrict how much his knee could extend and that without it he feels, “back to normal.” He’s unsure if he’ll go without it the rest of the season but said he’ll definitely be more aggressive regardless.
“That’s something that I’m working on this week,” the team’s leading rebounder (6.8) said. “I have to kind of get out of that funk and just go out there and play, not think too much, not worry about anything else but Penn State basketball.”
First game jitters
Just before tipoff between Penn State and Nebraska on Jan. 19, a six-year-old boy stood frozen with fear on the concourse inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
Joshua Sunday was afraid of heights and was reluctant to walk up the steps to his seats in the upper bowl of the stadium. So his father, Corby Ronk, let him take a peek from the lower level in Section 123.
It was Joshua’s first Penn State basketball game. Ronk received the tickets as a birthday gift from a co-worker at his job at Spectra Wood. He and his son share the same birthday – Jan. 15.
Eventually, Joshua bravely made the trek up the stairs toward Section 223. Squeezing his father’s hand tightly as they finally made it he turned looked down and said, “This isn’t so bad.”
Joshua enjoyed the game and said he really liked Brandon Taylor, although Ronk said that could just be because Taylor was on the cover of the program that day. Either way, father and son shared a special day together for their birthdays.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ronk said of sharing a birthday with his son. “It’s kind of like another father’s day.”
Aaron Carter covers Penn State’s men’s basketball for the CDT. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.