UNIVERSITY PARK — As Penn State coach Patrick Chambers discussed limiting the team’s turnovers, he credited his guard rotation before turning his focus to 6-foot-9 forward Donovon Jack.
Chambers took a moment to express his excitement for Jack’s future and praise his decision-making and intelligence on the floor.
Then, he put it all into perspective before the Nittany Lions left for Columbus, Ohio, highlighting the importance of those skills as a key to their Big Ten matchup against Ohio State on Wednesday night.
“We need that Wednesday,” Chambers said, raising his voice and tapping the table in front of him for emphasis. “Because they’re physical, they’re tough, they get in passing lanes, they overplay, they harass the ball. And we need to be smart and solid.
“If we can keep our turnovers under 10, we’re gonna give ourselves a chance to compete in that game for 40 minutes.”
Coming off its first conference win this season, the Lions (10-10, 1-6) know taking care of the ball will be crucial against the No. 24 Buckeyes. Ohio State (16-4, 3-4) leads the conference in turnover margin, while Penn State ranks 10th.
The Nittany Lions had just five turnovers in their 58-54 win over Nebraska last Thursday, and they’ll have to be sharp and keep their poise Wednesday night, Chambers said.
Point guard Tim Frazier echoed that sentiment.
“It’s gonna be huge for us, especially going on the road and especially in a hostile environment at Ohio State,” Frazier said. “They just came off a win. They just went through that (four-game losing) streak. They’re definitely gonna be ready to play.
“We just got to have poise. They’re gonna make runs, we’re gonna make runs, and as long as we stick together throughout the whole game, we’ll be fine.”
Chambers saw his players do that in the win over Nebraska. Though they made mistakes down the stretch and trailed by four points with less than three minutes remaining, the Lions made the plays to recover and earn the win.
The coach points to those closing minutes and says the team is starting to come together.
But the Buckeyes offer a challenge for the Nittany Lions to build on the win. Penn State has lost 17 straight games to Ohio State, last beating the Buckeyes on Jan. 10, 2004.
“If we get caught up worrying about, you know, Ohio State’s beaten us 17 straight times … then if it’s a close game with four minutes to go, then that’s gonna pop in our head,” Chambers said. “It’s only human nature, and we can’t worry about that.”
That’s why Chambers emphasized poise Tuesday. And it’s why the turnover battle could be the difference.
Chambers said starting guards Frazier and D.J. Newbill, the team’s leading scorers, along with freshman Graham Woodward and transfer John Johnson, are all capable of handling the ball for the Nittany Lions.
All four played a role in the victory over the Cornhuskers, with Frazier, Newbill and Johnson scoring in double figures, and Woodward logging 13 minutes in his first start.
Meanwhile, Jack offers a safety valve who can get the offense started through dribble handoffs to give the opponent a different look.
The forward also has a calming effect on the team, Chambers said, and Penn State will look to him to slow the game down against a Buckeyes team that pressures the ball and plays physical defense to limit its opponents to 58.3 points per game, the fewest allowed in the Big Ten.
“With Donovon out there, that really helps us,” Chambers said. “And when he’s in foul trouble, there’s a noticeable difference when he’s not on the floor, there really is. So it’s important for us to keep him in the game.”
If the Nittany Lions can limit their turnovers, Chambers feels they’ll be in the game.
After the win over Nebraska snapped a six-game losing streak in Big Ten play, he’s staying optimistic going into Wednesday night.
“We’re competing,” Chambers said. “We don’t see the results in the record, but we’re competing. And I just feel like I feel good about this team. I feel good about where we are.
“We need to continue on this stretch, on this path that we’re on and focus on us.”