Penn State men’s basketball: Nittany Lions work on latest mistakes, set to meet Gophers in first round of Big Ten Tournament

rgery@centredaily.comMarch 13, 2014 

— Penn State’s film review of Sunday’s 18-point loss to Minnesota centered around the turnover-riddled opening minutes.

The Nittany Lions’ mistakes killed any chances of beating the Golden Gophers. And Penn State coach Patrick Chambers and his staff hammered that home to their players as they began to prepare for a rematch of the regular-season finale in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

“We said, ‘This is us. This is us,’” Chambers said. “Just poor turnovers, poor decisions, a lot of one-on-one.”

No. 10 seed Penn State (15-16, 6-12) opens the conference tournament Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against seventh-seeded Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) in Indianapolis. The winner advances to the quarterfinals Friday to face second-seeded Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are focused on fixing their own problems as they prepare to face Minnesota just four days after the disappointing setback.

Chambers said one of Penn State’s keys to the game Sunday was to have less than 10 turnovers. Penn State committed six turnovers to contribute to an early 20-point deficit and finished with 10 turnovers in the first half.

All season, the coach has stressed the Nittany Lions’ need for three scorers to win games. Penn State guard D.J. Newbill was once again the team’s only threat offensively, scoring a game-high 24 points on 20 shots.

Those two issues fueled the Gophers’ hot start and their 81-63 win over the Nittany Lions.

“We both scout each other, we know exactly what we’re gonna do,” Chambers said. “But guys got to go make plays. If they score 80 points again, it’s not gonna be a good outcome for us.”

Chambers is hoping to his team can get back on track Thursday.

He said he’s been pleased with Penn State’s play in the last four games of the regular season. The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State for the second time, stuck with then-No. 14 Wisconsin in a five-point loss and blew Northwestern away before unraveling against the Gophers in the finale.

Newbill said the loss reinforced the need to limit turnovers.

“We got to take care of the basketball,” Newbill said. “We turned the ball over way too much. You can’t go into someone else’s house on senior night and turn the ball over 10 times in the first half. It’s almost impossible to win that way.”

Outside of that lesson, Newbill said Penn State views this week as a fresh start.

After an up-and-down regular season, the Nittany Lions have a chance to finish on a positive note and earn a postseason tournament bid.

Fifth-year guard Tim Frazier is well aware of what’s at stake.

“It’s win or go home,” Frazier said. “You lose, your season can be over. You can be in different places that you don’t want to be. We want to continue to win as much as possible. Obviously, my senior season, I want to keep winning. I believe we can keep winning and as long as we keep winning, I’ll be happy.”

Frazier played a crucial role in the Nittany Lions’ run to their first-ever Big Ten championship game appearance in 2011.

Penn State beat Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State to reach the title game, where the Nittany Lions lost to Ohio State.

Frazier said his teammates need to go to Indianapolis expecting to advance.

“Make sure you pack all the way to Sunday,” Frazier said of his advice for his teammates. “Be prepared. Believe that you’ll be there Sunday and go out there and compete. We play our game, play Penn State basketball, and there ain’t no team that we can’t beat, so you pack all the way until Sunday and be prepared to be there that long.”

To get there, Penn State will need to be at its best.

That’s why Chambers isn’t worried about Minnesota as he prepares to face the Gophers again. The Nittany Lions’ success in the tournament depends on whether on not his team steps up.

“It’s all about us,” Chambers said. “It’s all about our mindset, it’s all about where we are, what we’re thinking, where our heads are, that’s what it is. If we can go into this game with a clear head and compete from the start and give ourselves a chance, we’ll be OK.”

Notes: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska are the top four seeds and have first-round byes. … Ohio State is the defending conference tournament champion. The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 50-43 in the championship game. … Six different programs have won the Big Ten tournament, and nine schools have advanced to the championship game. … Penn State lost both regular-season games to Minnesota.

Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery

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