UNIVERSITY PARK — Patrick Chambers would not even allow the question to be asked.
“Don’t even ask me about Rec Hall, don’t even try it,” the coach said Monday at his weekly press conference.
Penn State has one of its most-hyped games in a long time Saturday when it plays in Rec Hall for the first time in nearly 18 years. But the Nittany Lions (7-3) will travel to Pittsburgh to face Duquesne at 7 p.m. tonight at the Consol Energy Center.
The Dukes (3-3) were a preseason pick to finish dead last in the 13-team Atlantic-10 by a poll of the league’s coaches and media. But, despite ultimately losing, they held a second-half lead a few weeks ago against Pittsburgh, and Chambers is by no means taking Jim Ferry’s team lightly.
“I know where they’re picked, and I think that is dead wrong,” Chambers said. “They gave Pitt everything they could handle. They gave West Virginia everything they could handle on the road. So, I look for a road game that is really going to test us and challenge us.”
Tonight’s matchup will be the fourth in five games away from the Bryce Jordan Center for Penn State, and the second venture to the Steel City in as many weeks for the team, as it fell to Pittsburgh, 78-69 at the Petersen Events Center last Tuesday.
And though it’s technically at a neutral location – in the home of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins – Chambers saw his team lose in the same venue to Pittsburgh-based Duquesne in his first season two years ago, and said he is very much treating it like a true road game. Chambers noted fans were into it last time the teams met in the arena, and added the Pittsburgh crowd was “bananas.”
Though this will not affect its record, Penn State is 1-1 in true road games this season, but was a lowly 2-20 in such games during Chambers’ first two campaigns in Happy Valley. So the more test the Lions can get away from home before conference play starts in three weeks, the better.
“We play in the Big Ten in some of the most hostile environments you could think of,” redshirt junior guard D.J. Newbill said. “I think going on the road and facing these teams that are good will help us out when we move to play in the Big Ten.”
Duquesne is the second Pittsburgh school the Lions play in the nonconference schedule, but also the fifth and final Pennsylvania team they will see. Penn State beat Philadelphia schools Penn and La Salle earlier this season, but also fell to central Pennsylvania foe Bucknell at home.
Chambers said he thinks facing so many squads from the Keystone State is good for recruiting, and hopes to continue to do so down the road.
“You always want to win your state in recruiting, and it’s nice to have these rivalries with Philly and Pittsburgh,” said Chambers, who grew up outside of Philadelphia. “And you like to think attendance, it should help attendance because it’s a short ride. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, and I’m going to continue doing it because I think it really prepares us for what we’ll see in the Big Ten.”
The Dukes and Lions also met last season, but did so in a late December meeting at the Bryce Jordan Center with the home team coming out victorious. Penn State, however, did not see Duquesne’s leading scorer in Ovie Soko, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama-Birmingham. Soko averages a double-double this season and leads his team with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
As far as scoring for Penn State goes, four of the team’s five starters average double-figures, and the starting lineup accounts for 83.4 percent of the team’s offense. Sixth man Allen Roberts averages 7.2 points per game, but the rest of the pine contributes a combined 7.4 points per contest. And that’s something Chambers would like to see change.
“I want more from my bench,” he said. “I’ve never had this position where I have guys that can play, but I want more from them. As I look at the box score, one of the first five things I look at is bench scoring and it needs to get better. Good teams in the Big Ten have good benches and with the way the [foul] rules have changed, you need depth.”