As he talked about his freshmen’s performance through three games, Patrick Chambers mimicked the climb and descent of a rollercoaster to make his point.
They play really well, he said, raising his right hand higher in the air. Then their play drops a little bit, he said, bringing his hand back down.
It’s what the Penn State coach expected during the nonconference slate.
“We’ve put them in the fire early and often,” Chambers said last Thursday, ahead of his team’s trip to the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. “Sometimes that fire gets hot and it burns.”
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The young Nittany Lions took on two ranked teams at the tournament in Connecticut, losing to then-No. 1 Duke and then-No. 24 Cincinnati and continuing the early-season learning process.
Penn State (2-3) takes on Colgate (1-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Chambers said his freshmen need to continue to focus on playing hard after two straight losses.
“They’re going to have to learn the hard way,” Chambers said on his teleconference Monday. “That’s why we have such a tough nonconference. I knew we were going to stub our toe. I knew it was going to be difficult, but that’s what we wanted to prepare these younger guys for, what the Big Ten’s going to be like every night.”
In its first major tests during nonconference play, Penn State battled Duke in a 10-point loss but didn’t challenge Cincinnati, falling 71-50.
Freshman guard Tony Carr scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed six rebounds against Duke, while freshman forward Lamar Stevens had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks. They helped the Nittany Lions respond to the Blue Devils’ runs throughout the game.
But Penn State didn’t have an answer for the Bearcats.
Penn State’s youth has contributed to the team’s inconsistency, and Chambers said his team wasn’t ready to play against a stronger Cincinnati team.
The coach aimed to build his young players’ confidence during the loss.
“For me, it’s just patience, persistence, just keep teaching, keep coaching,” Chambers said. “A lot of my huddles were not yelling. My halftime wasn’t yelling.”
Chambers said Penn State’s veterans have to continue to help develop the freshmen.
Carr, Stevens and redshirt freshman forward Mike Watkins have started every game. Freshman guard Nazeer Bostick has played in the last three games, earning 17 minutes against Grand Canyon and 19 minutes against Cincinnati.
As they play through the ups and downs of their first season, Chambers is looking to enjoy the process and stay patient.
“It’s going to be my great challenge this year of when to push and when to pull, when to really drive them and when to pull back and give them the day to kind of recover mentally and physically,” Chambers said.
The mental aspect remains a work in progress.
After a season-opening loss to Albany, Chambers said his team’s effort fluctuated with its performance on the offensive end.
He repeated that point Monday.
“We’re a little bit of a finesse team right now,” Chambers said. “When we’re making shots, we’re going to play hard. When we’re not making shots, well, we’re going to feel sorry for ourselves, and we got to work on that.”
Notes: After missing the first five games of the season due to a leg injury, Josh Reaves will make his season debut Wednesday. … Colgate is coming off a 74-68 loss to NJIT last Saturday. Colgate lost to then-No. 19 Syracuse in its opener and beat Cornell in its second game. … Junior guard Sean O’Brien leads Colgate in scoring with 12.7 points per game. Sophomore forward Malcolm Regisford is averaging 10 points per game.
Colgate at Penn State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
Radio: WQWK 1450