When Penn State returns to the Bryce Jordan Center to face Army at 4 p.m. today, the Nittany Lions will be looking for something they’ve struggled with this season – consistency.
“I use the term persistent intensity,” said coach Patrick Chambers after a 82-57 loss to La Salle on Wednesday. “We need to use that for 40 minutes.”
One big problem for Penn State (4-4) is that its roster lacks depth, forcing a few players to log most of those 40 minutes, and as a result fatigue makes that consistency even more elusive.
Since Tim Frazier’s Achilles tendon injury and the indefinite suspension of Patrick Ackerman for an undisclosed violation of team rules, seven players have played the bulk of Penn State’s minutes.
D.J. Newbill seems to be adjusting well to life as a point guard but is playing about 36 minutes per game. Newbill has nine assists to four turnovers in his last two games after high turnover numbers early in the season.
Jermaine Marshall is averaging a team-high 20 points over the last four games but has played 35 minutes per contest. Ross Travis, who had his best shooting night of the season against La Salle (12 points on 6 of 11), has played about 34 minutes per game.
Nick Colella and Sasa Borovnjak have gotten consistent minutes off the bench, but freshmen Donovon Jack and Akosa Maduegbunam are being brought along slowly.
Brandon Taylor has shown glimpses of the player he could become, but foul trouble has limited some of the freshman’s game time.
Newbill facilitated the offense well in the first half against La Salle, tallying four assists and just one turnover. Marshall scored 13 points in the first half and Travis scored 10, but the trio looked spent after halftime, playing all but three minutes of the game (Marshall played 37 minutes, Newbill and Travis each played 40).
Newbill had just one second-half assist. Marshall scored six points after the break and Travis had just two as La Salle outscored the Nittany Lions 44-23.
With just four games remaining on the non-conference schedule, the Nittany Lions will need to get quality minutes from somewhere to preserve the legs of Newbill, Marshall and Travis, who will be taxed even more once the Big Ten season begins Jan. 3 at Wisconsin.
In contrast, Army (4-3) has played at least 13 players in each game this season. The Black Knights are led by senior Ella Ellis, whose 6-foot-7, 190-pound frame and versatility usually pose problems for opposing defenses. Travis will likely draw the assignment and should matchup well.
Ellis, a forward who can play inside and out, is averaging 19.7 points per game. Kyle Wilson, a 6-foot-4 freshman, is second in scoring with 11.7 per game.
Junior guard Josh Herbeck, averaging 9.7 per game, missed Army’s 91-57 win over Marist on Tuesday because of a head injury he sustained against Bryant. He is expected to make the trip and will be a game-time decision.
Kyle Toth, a 6-foot-1-freshman guard, filled in for Herbeck and scored a career-high 20 points in his first career start. Ellis scored a game-high 23 points. Toth and Ellis each shot 6 of 9 from the 3-point line in the game and as a team Army shot 15 of 30 from behind the arc.
La Salle bombarded Penn State with 3-pointers (16 of 31) and the Black Knights likely will try to duplicate the effort. Army averages nearly 26 attempts from the 3-point line and has four players that shoot at least 40 percent from that area.
What makes the 3-point line so dangerous for Penn State — a team that averages less than five makes per game — is its inability to make enough 2-point baskets to offset the difference if an opponent gets hot. For example, La Salle scored 48 points on 3-point shots and also made 18 of 24 free throws. Those 66 points alone were more than Penn State (22 of 50 from the field and 10 of 17 from the line) scored in the entire game.